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Former Terps star McMillen predicts 'major gambling scandal' tied to college sports betting in future

Former Maryland congressman and basketball star Tom McMillen is urging Gov. Larry Hogan and legislative leaders “to take all necessary steps” to avoid a college athletics betting scandal if the state legalizes gambling on football, basketball and other sports.

McMillen recently wrote letters to Hogan, Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, saying college athletes “are vulnerable to outside gambling influences” and the state must ensure that schools have the resources to safeguard against scandals.

McMillen, who was a University of Maryland basketball star and later a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, wrote to the elected officials on behalf of the LEAD1 Association. The organization, of which McMillen is president and CEO, represents the athletics directors of the 130 universities in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision — including Maryland and the Naval Academy.

McMillen said in an interview Tuesday that his concern extends beyond Maryland to other states that have approved or are considering legalizing sports betting.

“There is a 100 percent chance that there will be a major gambling scandal at an institution of higher education in the United States in the future,” McMillen said. “These kids are in a very vulnerable spot. You have one major scandal and it will be an enormous good-will loss for these schools.”

Maryland General Assembly leaders are considering a fast-track proposal under which lawmakers would legalize sports betting without seeking voter approval in a referendum.

A voter-approved referendum was long considered a precursor for Maryland to join surrounding states, such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey, which have started offering sports wagering since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a congressional ban in May. The District of Columbia is in the process of establishing sports betting; the D.C. Council approved it in December.

But Maryland lawmakers say they are studying whether sports betting could be legalized without a 2020 ballot referendum if the wagers — which might be placed at casinos, racetracks or both — were placed under the existing lottery regulatory system. Changes or additions to lottery games are exempt from a 2007 requirement that any new commercial gaming must be approved by a majority of voters in a general election.

Busch in particular has been vocal about the potential benefits of sports betting, which he said include making Maryland casinos more competitive with those in surrounding states. Busch, a sports fan who played football at Temple University, had not yet seen McMillen’s letter and had no comment, a spokeswoman said.

McMillen is not asking lawmakers or the governor to oppose legalized sports betting. Rather, he said he wants to ensure funding is offered to help colleges can ensure the integrity of their sports programs. He said that nearly 80 percent of the athletic directors he represents are opposed to betting on college sports — partly because of concerns about scandals.

To try to minimize chances of a scandal, New Jersey has established rules against taking bets on Rutgers and other universities in the state. It’s too soon to know whether such an approach could gain traction in Maryland.

LEAD1 has suggested that schools educate their campus communities about gambling rules, and that college coaches reinforce university and NCAA rules against student-athlete involvement in sports wagering.

The Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball tournament — known as “March Madness” — are two of the most popular sporting events for bettors.

“Our universities are too important to be diminished by a highly publicized sports betting scandal,” McMillen’s letter to the elected officials said.

jebarker@baltsun.com

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