LAS VEGAS - Nevada gaming regulators are proposing a limit on the size of bets placed on college games in an effort to stave off federal legislation that would make any such wagering illegal.
The regulators also would ban bets on high school and Olympic sports, and for the first time in years Nevada casinos would be able to accept bets on games involving Nevada universities and on college games played in the state.
The proposal comes on the heels of congressional hearings on a bill that would ban betting on NCAA contests. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and several high profile college coaches have testified that college betting should be outlawed to keep gamblers from influencing young athletes to throw games.
Nevada is the only state that allows betting on college sports contests.
''We feel we're better equipped to regulate the gaming industry in Nevada than Washington (D.C.),'' said Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Brian Sandoval. ''I hope they (Congress) will be receptive. Obviously, if a bill passed in Congress, anything we do will be moot.''
An aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee has held hearings on the federal legislation said he didn't think the move by Nevada regulators would stem the push for a betting ban bill.
''Clearly they realize there is a problem or a concern,'' said McCain's aide David Crane.
''It falls short of what needs to be done.''
A significant change would be the $550 per-person, per-game betting limit on college contests in the state's 153 sports books. The proposed regulation would require sports book operators to ensure customers cannot exceed the $550 limit with multiple wagers.
The intent of the proposal is to discourage illegal bookmakers and fixers from attempting to use Nevada's legal sports books to place bets, Sandoval said.
Some casinos currently accept bets of as much as $15,000 on college football games.
The proposal would prohibit sports books from taking bets on college games from coaches or players involved in booked events. It also would reiterate the state's prohibition on betting on high school sports and eliminate Olympic sports bets.
The proposals will be discussed at the gaming commission's scheduled Oct. 26 meeting in Carson City. After hearings, the commission could vote to approve the rule changes at its Nov. 20 meeting in Las Vegas.
The commission's proposal was criticized on several fronts. Some said it didn't go far enough and others called it reactive.
''They need to get the bill defeated in Congress and come up with a strategy for defeating the bill next year,'' said Bill Thompson, a gambling industry expert and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. ''If it's (a cap) necessary for college it's necessary for pros.''
Thompson said the proposal is not well-thought out because it both restricts and expands collegiate betting.
That's because it would for the first time in 50 years allow bettors to wager on games played by Nevada colleges or on games played in Nevada. The proposal is a response to criticism of the state during congressional hearings when it was called hypocritical for not allowing bets on Nevada teams.
The NCAA, which has pushed the federal betting ban bill, issued a statement saying the commission's proposed changes acknowledge betting on young people is wrong and are nothing more than a smoke screen.
''From the NCAA's standpoint, these proposals are a clever attempt to derail federal legislation the association has supported to ban wagering on amateur athletics.''
Nevada's congressional delegation has worked hard against the proposed NCAA betting ban and managed to keep it bottled up in committee.
A vote on the legislation that would make betting on collegiate sports illegal is not expected by the end of the session, said David Lemmon, spokesman for Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev. ''It has a very, very, very slight chance of happening,'' he said.
Crane predicted the bill will move to the floor next year and easily win passage.
During a House Judiciary Committee hearing in June, Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said legal wagering on sports in Nevada makes up only 1 percent to 3 percent of all sports bets nationwide.
Legalized collegiate betting is necessary because it plays a police function, according to the gambling industry.
Sandoval said significant movement in a betting line tips off sports book managers, gaming regulators and university officials and coaches to possible cheating.
''We believe by having legalized sports betting we protect the integrity of college athletes and sports in the other 49 states,'' he said.
''If you eliminate legalized sports betting in the state of Nevada it will strengthen illegal bookmakers across the country,'' said Sandoval, adding such a ban would also strengthen illegal betting offshore, in Mexico and over the Internet. ''I think it will cause an explosion of illegal bookmaking.''
The $550 limit is not arbitrary, said Sandoval, who said it is based on a Nevada Gaming Control Board investigation that timed how long it would take someone to place bets at different casinos.
''Based on the $550 limit, someone couldn't have time to place enough aggregate bets to have an effect on a game,'' he said, adding he expects there will be some debate on the number for the cap. ''If someone wants to place a $10,000 bet they would have to go to 20 different properties. This is certainly a deterrent.''