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Canzano: A big loss for Oregon when it comes to law, gambling and college sports
Bill that would allow wagering on college basketball is blocked.
A bill that would allow wagering on college sports in Oregon got killed in the most recent session.
Peter Courtney called me the other day. He’s the 78-year old soon-to-be-retired president of the Oregon Senate and he telephoned with some bad news.
“I failed,” he said.
Senate Bill 1503 would have allowed the Oregon Lottery to conduct gambling opportunities based on the outcomes of college sports games. Currently in Oregon you can legally wager on the NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA and a variety of other sporting events including darts, go-karts and cricket but what you can’t do is place a bet on a college sporting event.
No college football games.
No March Madness.
Today is “Selection Sunday” and NCAA Tournament brackets will be released. The sports books in Las Vegas will tell you the first and second round tournament games run nose-to-nose with the Super Bowl when it comes to revenue generated.
“There’s nothing else close to those two,” said Jay Kornegay, head of the WestGate SuperBook. “The Super Bowl is a much more mature, older crowd. March Madness? It’s a frat party. It’s a different clientele. We’ve got to store up on light beer, bacon and burgers.”
Courtney’s bill died. It would have used revenue from wagering on collegiate sporting events to provide scholarships and grants for low-income university students. The proposed law ran into opposition from anti-gambling lobbyists and the tribal casinos, which called for a task force and a commissioned study instead.
A task force?
“It’s political code for ‘Kill the bill. Kill the bill,’” Courtney said. “These studies drive me crazy. These task forces drive me crazy. I didn’t come here to do a study, I came here to vote and make public policy. That’s exactly what that was. They came at me hard and they beat me. I lost. I got beat. I’m really down about that.”
Anyone who has ever spent time around Courtney knows he’s a firecracker. Talking with him is like opening a fresh box of fireworks on the Fourth of July. You pull one out, look it over, light it, and you’re not quite sure what is going to happen until it’s happening — but man it’s never boring.
Courtney is a die-hard sports fan. I’ve heard from him over the years. He lamented once on National Signing Day that he wished more in-state high school kids would get football scholarships from Oregon and Oregon State. Another time he phoned me to rail about Tom Brady’s departure from New England and when Mario Cristobal left the Ducks for Miami last December the lawmaker roasted me for not being tougher on the departing coach.
Said Courtney: “Cristobal, Chip Kelly, Willie Taggart — don’t even get me started on coaches and loyalty.”
This was Courtney’s final session in office. He’s the longest serving lawmaker in state history. After 38 years he’s retiring and will spend more time with his wife, Margie. We spoke at length last week in a podcast interview and he was entertaining, authentic and informative.
What does Courtney know now that he wishes he’d known when he was younger?
“There is such a thing as wisdom. My grandmother — God I loved my grandmother, she helped raise me — she used to sit at the foot of my bed and say, ‘Peter Peter Peter Peter… it’s not as bad as you think it is.’”
Is he nostalgic about retiring?
“I don’t get into that. I don’t celebrate it. I don’t get remorseful. I don’t want to talk about it. To me, life is hell, then you die. That’s just another example of hell. Hook the plow up to me and one day I’ll be out there and drop dead. I can’t deal with it.”
How does he handle goodbyes?
“I don’t like goodbyes. I’m not up at the podium crying. I’m not crying. I know how to work. That’s all I know — work, work, work. I’m not up there being sentimental. I’m not into all that gooey stuff.”
In our talk, Courtney kept coming back to Senate Bill 1503. He’s had a lot of wins in his career. He’s been an advocate for children and animals, particularly. But going out with a loss on the college gambling bill bothered him.
“We could have done something big time to create a major fund for children who don’t have a lot of money. So when they go to college they won’t come out so in debt they can’t afford a house or car,” he said.
The NCAA Tournament first and second round games will begin this week. I won’t think of them without wondering if there’s another state lawmaker willing to step in after Courtney retires to keep fighting and introduce legislation in the next session that would allow wagering on college games.
Said Courtney: “The idea is you introduce a bill and you’re lucky if you get half a loaf. I’ve learned years ago I’ll settle for a slice. I couldn’t even get a slice. I’m not happy about it.”