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All Oly bets are off — in Nevada

SHARE All Oly bets are off — in Nevada

The state of Nevada, for the first time, will ban wagering on Olympic events — a surprising first considering the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games are the closest the Olympics have been to the Silver State since Squaw Valley played host in 1960.

The ban was instituted by the Nevada Gaming Commission, which last year ruled that wagers on noncollegiate amateur athletic events would be illegal.

"Unfortunately we can't accept any wagers on the Olympics," lamented Chuck Esposito, assistant vice president of race and sportsbook operations at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.

The ban on Olympic gambling came a year after the Sydney Games when many International Olympic Committee members were shocked to learn that athletes — under Australia's liberal gambling laws — were free to bet on themselves or their opponents.

"It (gambling) is in total contradiction of the ethical principle of Olympism," Keba Mbaye, chairman of the IOC ethics commission, told the Associated Press in Sydney. "In the very near future, we will be presenting (amendments) in the charter that makes this very clear. We will have to have a provision in the charter — that is certainly what the ethics commission is recommending."

But the IOC has failed to pass any anti-gambling amendments to its charter, so, sans the gaming commission's decision, athletes or spectators could have made the 90-minute journey to bet in West Wendover, Nev., sportsbooks.

The Olympic ban has been overlooked because it was passed under the same provision that reversed the long-standing restriction prohibiting betting on Nevada college teams — a decision that brought criticism from national pundits who said that lifting the ban would increase corruption and lead to game-fixing on Nevada's collegiate sports.

In the wake of the decision, the gaming industry has lobbied against the efforts of the National Collegiate Athletic Association and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who would like to eliminate all gambling on collegiate athletics.

The gaming lobby has fought to keep college gambling alive because it makes up about 40 percent of Nevada's nearly $2.5 billion sports wagering industry.

A more minute portion of the sports wagering total was realized by Olympic wagers, so the ban received little resistance from the gaming industry.

"The Olympics really weren't big wagering items anyway, and rather than have it be a major concern to anyone, we just prohibited it," said Jerry Markling, the gaming commission's deputy chief.

Still, gamblers can find a certain amount of action on the Internet. For instance, Centrebet, an Australian Internet betting business, took in an estimated $45 million during Sydney's Games.

Currently, the online sportsbook www.thebigbook.com offers Winter Olympic gambling — but only takes wagers on men's hockey. The United States is the early favorite at 2 to 1.

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com