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Sports Betting – Is it Fixed?

Grantland Rice said a lot of wise things during his legendary sportswriting career. The wisest: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

This goes double for handicappers. Haralabos Voulgaris has won a considerable amount of money betting on NBA games. But the Tim Donaghy scandal made him think twice about his job. “I had an unhealthy time looking back at old games that Donaghy rejected and seeing how affected I was,” Voulgaris told TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott last June.

“It was rather disturbing and kind of put me off betting.”

The disturbance is twofold. It has to do with the integrity of sports, but also with the integrity of sports betting. Scandals like the Donaghy affair have paled both industries by compromising their integrity. When a game is fixed, it is no longer a sport – nor a gambling game. It is simply a crime.

In that case, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and transmit betting information through interstate commerce. Neither charge relates specifically to match-fixing – Donaghy admitted to only selling “inside information” about two NBA games he officiated during the 2006-07 season. But prosecutors say Donaghy also bet on games he worked on, and Voulgaris is among many convinced those games have been fixed.

This is just the latest in a long and sad story of betting scandals that litter the pages of sports history. The following four prominent cases involved proven game manipulation and links to criminal elements:

1919: Gangsters conspire with members of the Chicago White Sox to launch the World Series. Eight members of the team are banned for life from Major League Baseball, including the famous “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

1951: Basketball players at four New York-area colleges are indicted in a point-shaving scandal. The NCAA champions of that year, the Kentucky Wildcats, are suspended the following season for shaving points. In all, 20 players and 14 players are sentenced.

1981: Five Boston College basketball players are convicted of razing points during the 1978-79 season. Nine games are fixed; members of the Lucchese crime family are involved in the scheme.

2005: German football referee Robert Hoyzer admits fixing several second-tier Bundesliga matches; he is linked to a Croatian gambling syndicate linked to organized crime and sentenced to 29 months in prison. Other referees and players are involved; two of the 13 matches under investigation are confirmed fixed.

Other alleged cases of match fixing are on the books but have yet to be proven. The most damaging scandal outside of the Donaghy investigation concerns professional tennis. Nikolay Davydenko remains suspected of a default loss in Poland in 2007 to Martin Vassallo Arguello; Davydenko was the tournament’s top seed, while Vassallo was seeded at No. 87. London bookmaker Betfair received a highly unusual sum of money on Arguello during the match and voided all bets.

So far, the investigation by the ATP (and aided by information from Betfair and other bookmakers) has found 45 suspicious matches, including eight at Wimbledon. So far, five Italian players have been fined and suspended. Davydenko has not been charged and claims both his innocence and that of his counterparts.

The ATP investigation stands in stark contrast to how the NBA is handling Donaghy’s situation. Commissioner David Stern is under fire for portraying the disgraced referee as a rogue official who acted alone; Donaghy told federal investigators otherwise. It’s a sport where referees are regularly criticized for their favoritism and where teams seem to lose on purpose towards the end of the season in order to improve their chances in the draw. Any failure to provide transparency fuels conspiracy theorists who believe in widespread game-fixing designed by Stern himself to maximize league profits.

There is another contrast between the tennis and basketball scandals that points right to the heart of the matter. Betfair operates in a country where sports betting is legal, widespread and regulated. Anti-gambling legislation in North America only serves to drive the industry further underground, and the NBA contributes to this with its fiery public stance against gambling.

This environment provides the dark corners where anything can happen. Unless the NBA opens these corners to a full and fair investigation, its credibility will only suffer, and sports fans and players will turn their attention elsewhere – just as they have boxing. Mr. Stern certainly does not want the NBA to suffer the same fate as the Grantland Rice sport, once adored by a public delighted by millions.

Copyright © 26/06/2008 – Cappers Mall – All rights reserved

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