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In what may be a surprising stance to some, the commissioners of professional sports - baseball, basketball and football - are vigorously opposed to gambling on their games. They say legalized sports gambling sponsored by money-grubbing states ought to be stopped in its tracks - and they're dead right.

Those sports, whose teams are followed by millions, are obviously the objects of wagers. But the commissioners are united in declaring that legalized gambling causes serious problems.They particularly point out the potential difficulties such as point spreads - the predicted margin of victory set by oddsmakers and often the focus of wagering - plus the possible questions gambling can raise about player honesty.

Yet their opposition to gambling also is based on a most welcome moral standard. As Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League put it:

"We do not want our games used as bait to sell gambling. Sports gambling should not be used as a cure for sagging fortunes of Atlantic City casinos or to boost public interest in state lotteries. We should not gamble with our children's heroes."

Also testifying against the spread of gambling were Fay Vincent of Major League Baseball and David Stern of the National Basketball Association.

Their remarks were made before a U.S. Senate subcommittee considering legislation to prohibit states from using professional sports symbols for gambling or or using sports results as the basis for wagering.

Sen Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Sen. Dennis DeConcini, R-Ariz., are co-sponsors of a bill that would use copyright laws to keep gamblers from using team logos, names and other identifications. Another bill would ban states from sponsoring sports lotteries, sweepstakes or similar sports-related gambling schemes.

The latter measure, unfortunately, would allow such gaming to continue in Oregon, Delaware and Nevada where it is already legal, but would not permit additional states to do it. At best, such a law would prohibit all states from capitalizing on professional sports to promote gambling.

It's bad enough that lotteries are spreading across the nation, with states spending an estimated $500 million a year advertising them and trying to lure their citizens into throwing away their money on get-rich-quick dreams.

Some of the ads in Chicago, for example, are pointedly aimed at people in poor neighborhoods who already lack enough money without wasting it on gambling. The ads say, "This could be your ticket out," meaning out of the ghetto. In any event, they are seven times more likely to be struck by lightning than to win a major jackpot.

How can states morally justify these flagrant attempts to separate poor people from their money?

Small wonder that the sports commissioners don't want their professional teams to be associated with such activities.

Residents of states seeking to adopt lotteries should remember the commissioners' example and argument - and soundly defeat any attempts to spread the gambling virus.