You bet sports gambling is a good idea!

Professional sports is already a money-driven industry, we should let the fans gain, too.

Gambling and sports are stuck together like peanut butter and jelly, and wherever one is present, you are sure to find the other. At times however, they can react like baking soda and vinegar, causing an eruption of controversy.

From Pete Rose to Rick Neuheisel, great athletes and coaches have been busted for betting on sports – even on their own teams. To some it’s a big deal and to others it’s not, but it is a venture that has made criminals of those in the spotlight, while those in the shadows rake in the profits. The spotlight might illuminate those shadows soon, as Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill to legalize sports gambling. The bill would allow sports betting to occur at licensed lottery retailers. If the bill passes, Minnesota could be a very popular economy-boosting bookie.

The kicker is that sports gambling would be limited to professional sports only. If collegiate sports – or any other amateur sports for that matter – are bet on, the bill is out of the question. NCAA student-athletes have enough pressure already between classes and competitions; the last thing on their young minds should be how much money is riding on their performance. They are out there to compete for no one other than themselves, their fans and their schools. Amateur sports must be kept innocent, with the drive to win overcoming the drive to cash in.

As a money-driven industry, professional sports, is a very different story. Tiger Woods raked in $80.3 million last year to finish out 2004 as the world’s highest- paid athlete. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning galloped to the bank with $42 million to top the NFL money list. The NBA’s Shaquille O’Neal deposited $31.9 million in 2004, while New York Yankees shortstop Alex Rodriguez led the MLB with a modest $26.2 million.

With inflated bank accounts and the egos to go along, how could one feel bad about betting on professional athletes? Diehard fans feel the highs and lows while watching their teams compete, and the bill could allow Minnesotans to grab a piece of Kevin Garnett’s check (or maybe Latrell Sprewell’s, he hasn’t earned it).

Aside from the cash cows of professional sports, the next best reason to legalize sports gambling is the fact that it already happens right before our eyes. Gambling on sports isn’t a subtle occurrence, as it infiltrates offices everywhere, with both professional and amateur betting. Come March, long-awaited NCAA basketball tournament brackets will be floating around offices, fraternity houses and high school hallways everywhere, as Sweet Sixteen and Final Four picks are compared.

Focusing on professional sports gambling, fantasy football is a phenomenon that has brought brute football fans and computer geeks together. After buying into leagues that range anywhere from pocket change to hundreds of dollars for the 17-week season, fantasy competitors track their players religiously. Injury reports and box scores are read with more intricacy than a preskydiving medical waiver, while everyone waits for their “sleeper pick” to break out. Entire television programs and Internet sites have been devoted to fantasy football analysis.

The proposed bill should pass through the Legislature easily. Whether it does will have no effect on the sports gambling business. Bets will still be placed and money will still be won and lost. The odds of cashing in favor the State. After all, the House always wins.

Mike Durkin welcomes comments at [email protected]