When the House begins debating an omnibus anti-crime bill next week, much of the attention will be focused on issues such as expanding the federal death penalty, the denial of federal benefits to those convicted of drug offenses and weakening of the "exclusionary rule" that prohibits the use of illegally seized evidence in criminal trials.
But some of the most intense lobbying on the measure involves a little-noticed provision in the bill that would prohibit states from operating lottery games based on professional or amateur sporting events.
Professional sports leagues and teams have launched a major effort to retain the lottery ban in the bill. Lawmakers from Oregon, the only state that has such a lottery, are backing an amendment that would strip the ban from the measure.
Pitted against the sports teams and leagues is a company that sells lottery equipment and the association of state lottery directors, whose members are carefully watching Oregon's one-year-old experiment with a sports lottery as a potential revenue source for state governments strapped for cash.
Both sides are using prominent Washington lobbying firms and pulling out all the stops in advance of next week's vote on the issue. Each side also accuses the other of hardball tactics.
Sources close to the Oregon delegation, for example, claim that lawmakers have told Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), who is sponsoring the amendment, that they have been told their states could lose expansion franchises and that they could be denied coveted tickets to the Super Bowl if they don't vote to retain the prohibition. A spokesman for Rep. John Bryant (D-Tex.), who sponsored the lottery ban, called that charge "nonsense."
Supporters of the ban, likewise, claim that Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis (D), whose administration is considering a sports lottery, asked House Rules Committee Chairman J. Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.) to provide some procedural sleight of hand that would strip the prohibition automatically when the bill is cleared for floor debate. Moakley said he considered -- and ultimately rejected -- that device, but said Dukakis had nothing to do with it.
What is clear is that prominent figures from the world of sports have inundated Capitol Hill with pleas to retain the ban. Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the National Collegiate Athletic Association have banded together in that effort.
Last week, for example, Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), received a letter from Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., owner of the San Francisco 49ers football team and a telegram from Rick Benner, president of the Sacramento Kings basketball team, urging him to support the prohibition.
"State-sponsored sports betting converts team sports from wholesome athletic entertainment into gambling devices," wrote DeBartolo. "It undermines public confidence in the integrity of our games, makes a mockery of our own anti-gambling policies, and sends entirely the wrong message about sports to America's young people."
Professional sports teams and leagues also opposed Oregon's lottery, which netted the state about $2.6 million in its first year. The profit is used to support intercollegiate athletics in the state.
Michael J. Carr, the commissioner of Michigan's state lottery and the head of the North American State and Provincial Lotteries Association, said sports lotteries like Oregon's cannot corrupt professional sports because the wagers are so small and because bettors must pick the outcomes of several games at once.