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Monday, February 12
UNLV: Betting ban removal won't change much




LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- You won't find the story of Game 1,256 in UNLV basketball history in the official box score.

But you could have found it at Hard Rock Casino three blocks from the game, or even at the arena itself, in the seats at Thomas & Mack Center.

Some fans, all decked out in UNLV garb, had paper slips in their possession, most of them reading, "UNLV -1" or "UNLV -2." That's depending on when and where they placed the bet.

And, thanks to 10 points from No. 10 -- sophomore forward Dalron Johnson -- the Runnin' Rebels not only beat the Brigham Young University Cougars by 12 points on Saturday afternoon, but the team also covered the spread.

Gaming Regulation 22.120(b), which went into effect this week, lifted the more than 40-year long ban that prohibited the state's sports books to make lines on Nevada's teams. So Friday morning, for the first time, the four letter combination of U, N, L and V -- in that order -- were posted in lights on boards across the gambling capital of the United States.

A day before, Eric Toliver, UNLV's assistant athletics director for compliance, sat the players down and reminded them of the very same thing he does once a month: Don't have anything to do with gamblers. This time, he cited the rules with a bit more urgency.

"They know not to be near a sports book," said Toliver, who reiterated that there hasn't been an incident involving the program and gambling in the eight years he's been at the school. "If they've got to go to a restaurant or a dance club in a casino, they better take the long entrance. It's that serious, because I don't want an anonymous phone call from someone saying that my student-athlete was sitting in a sports book watching a game."

In the past ten years alone, football and basketball players from Maine, Northwestern, Maryland, Boston College and Arizona State all have been suspended for betting on games.

The fixing of games was exactly what critics like Sen. Bob Coffin, D-Las Vegas, were thinking about when they opposed the legislation.

But Mike Olsen, president and general manager of the IBL's Las Vegas Bandits, believes that the proposition actually decreases the likelihood of foul play.

"There's always been gambling on basketball in this town and there's always been gambling on Rebel basketball, it just hasn't been above board," Olsen said. "Now it's legal, so at least now it can be monitored, which means they'll have an easier time of catching point-shavers by tracking the unusual betting cycles at the sports books."

Olsen's team ironically stars Issac Burton, who was involved in the Arizona State point-shaving scandal during the 1993-94 season.

For Craig Wederquist, UNLV's defensive line coach who was at the game on Saturday, the change didn't mean much.

"People will bet on this game just like people bet on Michigan State versus Illinois," Wederquist said. "I think when you look at (betting on) college athletics as a whole, it's really a small, very isolated change."

Wederquist said that over the past couple years he's been comforted by a more focused effort to combat student-athlete tampering. Extra security is sometimes provided by coaches and administrators, who double as watchdogs by questioning suspicious characters at team practices.

While betting on a regulated line might cause an increase the interest in UNLV basketball, Saturday's crowd was actually slightly below average and many locals in the crowd were not even aware of the proposition.

But there was plenty of talk on campus this past week about the legalization of betting on UNLV games, according to Adam Hill, the editor of the student paper, the UNLV Rebel Yell.

"I can tell you that there's a big buzz, just from talking to people around campus," said Hill, a junior. "Many of them are very excited that they can say, 'Oh, I'm going to bet on this game and then go watch it.'"

Hill said that many students have overseas internet accounts, not only so they can bet easier, but because they have all the lines on UNLV games.

"Now they can do that without having to worry about getting the money from a Caribbean sports book," Hill said.

Dalron Johnson said that despite all the talk of improprieties and the constant mumbling about Rick Pitino coaching the team next year, the focus will only be on winning, and the players can't concern themselves with yet another variable.

"In the past there's been issues of point shaving and everything, but we're just looking to go out there and win," Johnson said. "We're not worried about making a little money on the side or anything."

John Avello, director of the race and sports book at Bally's and Paris Las Vegas, said that putting UNLV and University of Nevada-Reno games on the board will have little impact on the bottom line. However, there will be a significant amount of money being spent on NCAA championship future bets, which in previous years could not be posted until UNLV was out of the tournament in basketball or out of the national championship game in football.

"We are now able to do the futures for the NCAA Tournament earlier and that will carry into football this year because we can put up the futures on the Rose Bowl champion earlier," Avello said. "When UNLV went all the way to the finals (in 1990), we had no future bets the entire tournament and, of course, no betting on the championship game."

Avello pointed out the proposition's life might short if the ban of betting on college sports passes in Congress later this year.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.


 




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