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Ferd's Words | Sports

Hawaii needs to make wagering on local games off-limits

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    A man watches a baseball game in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino, Monday, May 14, 2018, in Las Vegas. Hawaii could see new gambling bills after Supreme Court ruling.

When University of Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown’s 2-point conversion pass attempt failed in the fourth quarter against Fresno State last season, the disappointment was surprisingly loud from the meager Aloha Stadium gathering of 13,714.

And not necessarily because it kept the Rainbow Warriors, then 10 points behind (31-21), from closing to a one-touchdown gap on the Bulldogs.

It was also because the final Las Vegas betting line was 10 points, and if the game finished that way it meant a “push” — and gamblers would not collect.

It was but the most recent reminder of the popularity of sports betting in Hawaii, where the practice is nominally prohibited but nevertheless historically widespread.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to the possibility of change Monday when, in ruling on New Jersey’s challenge to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, it struck down key portions of the 1992 federal law that has kept states from joining Nevada in offering wide-ranging sports betting.

Whether the state legislature will pass a measure allowing Hawaii to join what is expected to be a flood of states adopting sports wagering remains to be seen, but in the wake of Monday’s Supreme Court decision, some key legislators say they expect to see several bills on the subject authored in next year’s session.

Hawaii is currently one of just two states — Utah is the other — that do not permit any form of gambling, sports or otherwise.

But while you can see some potential financial benefits from an adoption of sports gambling for professional sports such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball under the right circumstances, any move to include local colleges or high schools here should come with an abundance of additional caution.

A UH spokesman Monday said the school has yet to take an official position on the possibility of sports gambling in the state. But Jeff Portnoy, an attorney who heads the UH Board of Regents Committee on Intercollegiate Athletics, speaking for himself, says, “You have to be very naive not to know there is a tremendous amount of illegal (sports) gambling going on, in particular with UH football.”

Portnoy says, “You can sense that even by the phone calls that people make a day or two after the game to various sports (radio) programs. You can hear it in people’s voices who might have had a few dollars on the game.”

The beginning of the end for head coach Greg McMackin’s tenure at UH came early in the 2011 season when the ’Bows, an 18-point favorite, lost at Nevada-Las Vegas, 40-20, in front of plenty of irate Hawaii fans, many of whom had presumably been to the Vegas sports books.

Not long afterward, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood asked the Honolulu Police Department to look into an anonymous allegation of point shaving in the game. HPD subsequently announced there was not enough information to launch a criminal investigation.

It was not the first time in UH history there were allegations, never substantiated, surrounding a Rainbow Warriors loss.

Nor has sports betting been confined to UH here. For decades, betting on high school games has been a popular pursuit, also showing up on the parlay card marked “for amusement only.”

Even when it adopted betting on pro sports, Nevada, for 40 years, maintained a prohibition against betting on the games of in-state schools. Only in 2001, when it was satisfied sufficient safeguards were in place, did it open up betting to college games. High school games remain off-limits there.

Hawaii, which has much less expertise and experience in such matters, should follow Nevada’s initial lead and hold off on allowing gambling on local games.

Reach Ferd Lewis at or 529-4820.

More UH football coverage

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