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August 2009


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Betting and “Sports Bribery” Can Taint Sports

By Greg Stejskal

An estimated $300 billion is bet illegally on sports each year in the U.S. The underground industry has grown in good part because of the exponential increase in television coverage of games and the advent of the Internet as a betting and information forum.

The most popular games to bet on are football and basketball, but bets can be placed on virtually all sports. Unfortunately, from time to time, some games have been fixed through “sports bribery” or point shaving. I’ll get to more of that in a minute.

There is only one place in the US where sports gambling is legal, Nevada, and the bettor has to be physically present. Of course it is possible though not legal to have someone in Nevada place a bet for you.

The fact gambling is illegal has never had much impact on its growth or the public’s general acceptance. Pick any newspaper and you will find the betting line in the sports section. There is no difficulty in finding places to make a bet.

A bookie is probably as close as your local sports bar or one of the many sports gambling sites on the Internet. I recently received, via the U.S. Mail, advertisements for Internet sports gambling sites, e.g., and Gambling on these sites is illegal in the U.S., but enforcement is difficult because they generally operate off-shore.

Consequently, law enforcement (most often enforcement is done by Federal agencies) has concentrated on large scale bookmakers and organized crime’s connections. Because of the amounts of money involved and pervasive nature of sports gambling, efforts to gain an edge are inevitable.

Enter sports bribery. It poses a great threat to the integrity of sports at the college and professional levels. If fans lose faith and fear the outcome is fixed by gamblers, all sports become like professional wrestling, a caricature of a sporting event.

To understand the threat and how to combat it, it is necessary to understand how sports gambling works.
When placing a bet with a bookmaker (bookie), the bet is not as to which team will win.

Instead, it centers on which team will beat the other by the spread or line. The spread or line is a predetermined differential set by odds makers, usually in Las Vegas.

The line is a very educated prediction as to how many points the favored team will beat the other team. For example, the line may be for Michigan to beat Notre Dame by 3 points.

The bettor may bet on either Michigan or Notre Dame. If the bettor bets on Michigan, it is not enough for Michigan to win, they must win by more than 3 points. If not, the bettor who chose Notre Dame wins.

To avoid a tie or a push, odds makers sometimes use ½ points. Thus in our example Michigan would be favored by 31/2 points, and would have to win by 4 or more points to cover the spread. The line is meant to not only closely predict the outcome of the game, but to encourage betting on games.

Bookmakers do not generally care who wins. They simply hope that more people lost bets than won. This is because the bookmaker makes money only on the losing bets.

Ordinarily the losing bettor pays an additional 10% on top of the actual bet. This 10% commission goes to the bookie and is referred to as the “vigorish” or vig and is the bookie’s compensation.

Bookies may also offer credit or loans to bettors, but these loans will often be at usurious interest rates. Any bookie, whose business is relatively large, will probably have direct or indirect connections with organized crime (OC).

Illegal gambling is one of the largest revenue sources for organized crime. A bookie may pay a fee or tribute to an OC group for the “privilege” of conducting business.

The OC group may in return provide protection, eliminate competition and help with collection of bets or loans.
There have been numerous instances where people have tried to impact the game’s outcome, or find out inside information not known publicly that could impact a team or player’s performance.

To actually impact a score, the bettor would usually develop a relationship with a player(s). Based on past experience, this relationship usually develops when a player himself bets on games.

The player may become indebted or just have a desire to make more money. The bettor may suggest the player could make money by making sure the favored team did not win by the prescribed spread. (Note the bettor is not asking the player to lose the game, but just not win by as many points.) This is called point-shaving.

In one actual instance, in 1994, a bookie/bettor, Benny Silman, convinced an Arizona State University basketball player, Stevin (Hedake) Smith to insure that ASU win some games in which they were favored by less than the line or spread.

It became the biggest point-shaving scandal in terms of money wagered in college sports history. Silman had been Smith’s bookie and Smith had accumulated a gambling debt of $10,000 with Silman. Silman suggested that Smith insure that ASU win by less than the spread in a game they were heavily favored to win.

In return Silman would forgive Smith’s $10,000 debt and pay Smith an additional $10,000 (sports bribery). Smith agreed to the arrangement, and ASU won by less than the spread.

Interestingly, Smith had had one of the best games of his career, scoring a personal best 39 points. He was able to achieve the desired result by allowing the opposing player he was guarding to score more points (not really point shaving). The scheme was repeated in several more games in which ASU was favored. However, too many people learned of it and the betting was so heavily one-sided in Vegas on a later ASU game that the odds makers became suspicious.

The FBI investigated. People began talking and implicating others. Ultimately Silman, Smith and others were convicted. Smith’s anticipated career in the NBA never happened.

Earlier this year another point-shaving case was indicted in Federal Court in Detroit. The indictment alleges that University of Toledo football and basketball players colluded with Detroit bettors/bookies to shave points in Toledo games.

The University of Michigan did a study about 10 years ago involving a blind survey of Division 1 college student athletes. This survey found that over 4% of male student athletes admitted to directly betting with bookies since attending college, and in addition, nearly 4% admitted wagering on sports through the use of parlay cards – cards that list the week’s games along with point spreads.

Statistically that means on a D1 college football team, which typically has over 100 players on its roster, it is possible that 7 players or more per team are engaged in illegal sports wagering. How many of them will be tempted to try and influence the outcome of a game?

It is clear that athletes involved in sports gambling pose a very significant risk to the integrity of sports.

It’s little wonder when sports leagues and associations react quickly and harshly towards athletes who bet on games, such as Major League Baseball did when it determined that Pete20Rose bet on baseball games.

Over 30 years ago the FBI in cooperation with the NCAA, NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL instituted a “sports presentation program” wherein the FBI would provide specially trained FBI agents gratis to teams wishing to have them address the dangers of sports gambling and bribery.

As a FBI agent I participated in that program and made numerous presentations to college and professional teams. As the primary agency enforcing laws regarding illegal sports gambling and bribery, the FBI is uniquely able to have significant impact when making presentations to young athletes.

But because of changes in the FBI’s priorities and limited resources, the program barely exists today.

I would argue that the program is extremely cost effective and has had a proactive and positive effect on college and professional sports, and has likely deterred gambling activity that could potentially destroy the integrity of sports.

I have continued to make these presentations after my retirement whenever requested without compensation.

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