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North Dakota University System leader comes out against sports betting bill

North Dakota State takes the field for the NCAA Division I FCS championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. After winning seven FCS titles in eight seasons, the Bison were invited to the White House. David Samson / The Forum

BISMARCK — The head of the North Dakota University System came out against a proposal to allow betting on collegiate sports Thursday, March 7, warning it could lead to tampering with athletic events and put added pressure on student athletes.

The state House passed a bill last month allowing wagers on the outcome of professional and collegiate events through charitable gaming organizations. Its introduction followed a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision rendering a federal law that largely banned sports betting unconstitutional.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott testified against the bill when it went before a Senate committee Thursday, days after conferring with campus presidents who were unanimous in their opposition to the proposal. He said in an interview afterward that student athletes are “vulnerable” in part because of their accessibility to people who would bet on games.

“We would like to protect the student athletes here," Hagerott said.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Bismarck Republican Rep. Jason Dockter, said he wasn’t concerned about tampering or corruption scandals. He said the bill would simply legalize an activity that’s already taking place.

Dockter expected legal collegiate betting to only be available for major collegiate sports, perhaps extending to the University of North Dakota men's hockey or North Dakota State University football teams rather than smaller programs. He noted the men's basketball tournament known as "March Madness" would fall under sports betting.

"The whole intent is major college sports and professional (sports)," Dockter said.

UND Athletics Director Bill Chaves previously said student athletes would still be required to follow NCAA prohibitions on collegiate sports gambling even if state law allows it.

The NCAA "opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering, which has the potential to undermine the integrity of sports contests and jeopardizes the welfare of student-athletes and the intercollegiate athletics community," according to its website.

A charitable gaming official previously said Dockter's bill would provide organizations a new revenue source but was unsure how much money it would bring in.

The Senate Government and Veterans Affairs Committee didn't take action on the bill Thursday, according to a committee member.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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