Legendary Sen. McCain loved to gamble, but was once a tough opponent of college sports bettingBy John L. Smith, CDC Gaming ReportsSeptember 3, 2018 at 8:00 pmMy exclusive interview with Arizona Sen. John McCain fell just a little short.Back in the spring of 2000, McCain led a fight to ban betting on college sports events as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. He brought his signature zeal to the battle. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, the Amateur Sports Integrity Act threw a real scare into Nevada’s legal sports book industry.So, I considered it hypocritical for McCain to travel to Las Vegas in support of Nevada political candidates at a time that just happened to coincide with a major boxing event. To make matters even more interesting, a casino source informed me that McCain himself was standing in the pit at Caesars Palace playing blackjack.Sen. John McCain, left, with former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.It didn’t take long to find him grinning with fistfuls of chips and playing with the kind of intensity be brought to everything he did. When I approached a member of his staff and asked to get a few words with the senator, I was rebuffed. Not in a position to join him at the tables, I decided to try to catch up to him the next day after a fundraiser for a local congressional candidate.When I finally got the chance to ask him about his obvious affinity for gambling but his vilification of Nevada legal sports books, he glared. Then he gritted his teeth. Although I reported his comment at the time, I don’t recall what he actually said.But I still remember the clenched jaw and sudden anger. At that moment, I knew he could probably beat me to a pulp despite our size difference.In that instant, I also knew I would always like him. Anyone capable of getting that agitated over a single smart-mouth reporter’s question must be a helluva lot of fun to cover on a daily basis.From the look of things, McCain was all that and more.As I listened to the stirring tributes to the great American hero by former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, I was reminded of my one inconsequential McCain moment and how fiercely he fought for his cause. True to his nature, when it became clear that calls for prohibition and the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) hadn’t been effective, McCain in 2015 rose to recommend his colleagues revisit the issue of legalization. He wasn’t afraid to grow, to learn, to change his mind.But back in 2000, he was a fearless opponent. In a key hearing, McCain said, “Opponents of this legislation argue that there is a distinction between legalized amateur sports gambling and illegal sports gambling. The firm distinction they attempt to draw is one of convenience rather than reality. The report produced by the Treasury Department’s financial crimes enforcement network entitled, ‘Suspicious Activity Reporting on Casinos’ discusses various ways in which the Las Vegas sports books are used to launder money.“In several recent college sports point-shaving schemes, the Nevada sports books were used as an integral part of overall game-fixing operations and, beyond a doubt, the Vegas point spreads published nationwide in newspapers and on sports radio serve to advertise, promote, and to facilitate illegal sports gambling.“The (National Gambling Impact Study Commission) Gambling Commission stated in its final report, and I quote, `legal sports wagering, especially the publication in the media of Las Vegas and off-shore-generated point spreads, fuels a much larger amount of illegal sports wagering. By closing the Vegas loophole and banning college sports gambling completely, we will end a practice that has turned college athletes into objects to be bet upon, exposing them to unwarranted pressure, bribery, and corruption.“Ironically, the degree of this threat of corruption is best exemplified in the fact that Nevada, the only state where legal gambling on college sports occurs, has banned wagering on professional and amateur teams located within the state out of concern for the corrupting influence of sports gambling. One can go to Vegas and bet on any other team in the country, but not on any game where a Nevada team is playing.“In an increasingly jaded world, legalized gambling on all college athletes sends the wrong message to America’s youth. Collegiate competition serves as a laboratory classroom where young student athletes struggle to apply the highest ideals of the American character: courage in the face of adversity, discipline, team work, and self-sacrifice. These ideals and lessons are of particular importance in today’s society. They should not be reduced to a point spread in a spectacle for wagering.”Today, betting on Nevada college games is allowed at the state’s sports books. Sports betting, the last gambling pariah in America, is at last going legitimate in state after state.And Sen. John McCain is no less a hero for fighting his good fight on every front. Even when he lost, there was never a doubt where he stood.Contact John L. Smith at email@example.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.