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Come on, Congress: Sports Gambling, Not Bounties...

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Politics and sports are two things that incite strong emotions in nearly every individual in this country, but they should very rarely converge. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee announced there would be an upcoming hearing about bounties in professional football and other major sports as a result of recent allegations that the New Orleans Saints employed a system in which players would receive extra cash for hits that hurt high-profile opponents.

Are they serious? Well, yes they are. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) wants to examine whether a federal law should make bounty systems a crime. This week reports have surfaced that the IRS is now poking around and monitoring the situation about the payments that were made to players. The dominos are beginning to fall and political grandstanding has already begun. I am not a pollster, but if I had to guess I would assume more Americans are concerned with their pocket books and the economy right now than on professional sports bounty programs. Shockingly, I know I am going out on a limb here. Seriously though, Congress should only involve itself in sports-related matters on very rare occasions. One of those is sports gambling.

The Final Four is taking place this week in New Orleans with four historically good programs. More than six million people filled out NCAA tournament brackets on ESPN.com alone. Last month the Super Bowl game garnered the prize as the highest-rated television show in United States history with an estimated 111 million people watching.

Reports have shown that nearly half of all American adults make some sort of wager on the Super Bowl. The time has come for Congress to open its eyes when it comes to sports gambling.

As a member of the Missouri House of Representatives, I sponsored a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the Federal Professional And Amateur Sports Promotion Act of 1992 (PASPA). The 1992 law prohibited all but four states from offering sports gambling. The four states exempted from this act were Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon. Can you say unfair? Missouri currently allows 12 gambling casinos in the state. They should have the option to put a sportsbook in each one of them. The federal law is outdated and is truly discriminatory towards 46 other states. These states should have the option to share in the major economic and revenue benefits that sports betting can provide.

Since 2006, nearly $620 million has been legally wagered in Nevada sportsbooks on the Super Bowl, and in 2012 nearly $94 million was legally wagered on the Patriots v. Giants game. It is estimated that nearly $75 million will be legally wagered in Las Vegas on March Madness this year. Overall, legal sports wagering in Nevada represents less than 1 percent of all sports betting nationwide. Most importantly, the National Gabling Impact Study Commission (NGISC) estimates that illegal wagers are as much as $380 billion annually. Of the total amount bet on the Super Bowl in 2010, only about 1.5 percent is wagered legally. Lastly, the FBI estimates that more than $2.5 billion is illegally wagered annually on March Madness, but Nevada sportsbook operators estimate less than 4 percent of illegal betting on March Madness is wagered legally on the tournament in their state.

Hello, Congress! Sports gambling and wagering is widespread and commonplace in our country and it's being done illegally every minute. Allowing states around the country to make the decision on sports gambling in their state is the right thing to do. Following Nevada's lead across the country in a legal, regulated and taxed way would lead to millions of new revenue, hundreds of new jobs, increased economic development, thousands of tourists from across the land, and cut down on all the illegal offshore and internet sports gambling.

States throughout this country are dealing with budget problems and cuts to vital services and education. Instead of bickering and political pandering about professional sports bounty programs, Congress should do the right thing and repeal PASPA and allow states to have the option to legalize sports gambling.

Sports and politics will always make strange bedfellows, but make more sense as a couple when they involve the economy. This is the only sports related issue Congress should be talking about right now.