WITH billions of dollars being bet illegally on sports events throughout the United States each year, it was only a matter of time, perhaps, before money-starved state governments began eyeing this untapped source of revenue. In Oregon it is an accomplished fact. That state will launch a football wagering plan Sept. 6 - four days before the start of the pro season. Now a similar proposal is being studied in Massachusetts amid predictions that it could raise $50 million or more a year. New Hampshire, Kentucky, Illinois, and Michigan have also expressed interest. If past history with lotteries is any criterion, others will be quick to jump on the bandwagon once it starts rolling.
Supporters say government-run sports betting is an idea whose time has come, that it takes money being wagered illegally anyway and channels it into desperately needed state services.
``We feel it is not a significant expansion of gambling, but taking advantage of an existing situation,'' said State Rep. William D. Galvin (D) of Boston, sponsor of a bill to be considered by the Massachusetts legislature this fall.
``Let's face it,'' he added. ``If we don't do this, is there going to be any less wagering on pro football?''
But opponents, ranging from pro football officials to social workers to illegal bookmakers themselves, disagree.
``We feel it could create new gamblers,'' National Football League (NFL) spokesman Jim Heffernan told the Monitor. ``We feel it could turn the casual bettor into a habit bettor. ... And most of this type of betting is done by people who can least afford it.''
Thomas N. Cummings, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc., argued in the same vein.