10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events

Larry Holzwarth - January 20, 2018

By any measure, betting on sport events is a huge industry in the United States. It is virtually impossible to estimate the amount of money wagered privately between individuals on sporting events, but according to Mint, a financial planning site, more than $8 billion dollars is wagered on just one sporting event, the Super Bowl. CNBC reported in 2013 that between $60 and $70 billion is bet illegally per year on college football. Of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, the NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB only the National Football League continues to oppose legal betting on its games, despite the move of a team to Las Vegas in 2019.

With the astronomical amounts of money involved it is obvious that the opportunity to manipulate the results of sporting events to make more money is a major temptation. Point spreads allow for scores to be manipulated while still winning a game, and they have been used in the past to provide gamblers with an illegal edge. Throwing games, or matches, depending on the sport, has occurred and will likely continue to occur. There have been numerous times when gamblers, usually with links to organized crime, have manipulated the results of sports events. Some are famous, while others are all but forgotten.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
The first of two bouts between Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali and Sonny Liston. Both were considered questionable by many boxing fans. State Library and Archives of Florida

Here are ten times when gamblers have fixed the results of sporting events.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
The 1906 Canton Bulldogs Professional Football team. Wikimedia

The Canton – Massillon Game Fixing Scandal of 1906

In 1905 the Canton Bulldogs and the Massillon Tigers were considered by most aficionados of the game of American football to be the two best professional teams in the country. Located barely fifteen miles apart, both teams were members of the Ohio League, a confederation of several teams which varied each year as some teams folded due to insufficient income and others were added. In 1920 the league allowed several teams from other states to join and became the formal American Professional Football Association which in 1922 became the National Football League.

Long before then the Ohio League suffered a scandal which involved the fixing of a game between Canton and Massillon. In 1906 the teams were scheduled to play each other twice. Gate receipts were to be evenly split between the teams. The first game was played on November 16 in Canton, and the Bulldogs won by a score of 10 – 5. The second game was played on November 24 in Massillon, with the Tigers prevailing by the score of 13 – 6. The victory made Massillon the Ohio League champions for 1906.

That evening a brawl broke out in the Courtland Hotel, beginning in the hotel bar and eventually spilling into the street. The brawl involved Canton players and irate fans who believed the game to have been fixed, with Canton deliberately throwing the game. Other allegations were soon made against the Canton Head Coach, Blondy Wallace, charging him with throwing the game because he had bet on Massillon to win. The Bulldogs responded that Massillon was deliberately trying to damage their rival’s reputation, and that the charges of fixing the game, and another charge of attempting to bribe Massillon players, were baseless.

What actually happened is unknown, and several different stories have been presented about the game. What did happen is Canton’s next game, against Latrobe, was held on Thanksgiving Day and attendance was so poor that the Bulldog’s went unpaid for the game. Blondy Wallace sued the Massillon Independent for libel after the paper reported that he had tried to bribe Massillon players but the issue was settled out of court.

Whether the game was thrown because of gambling, or even if it was thrown at all, was never fully settled, in part due to the lack of a trial. The Ohio League lost considerable prestige for the next several years. The Canton Bulldogs were out of money, as were the Massillon Tigers, and both teams were forced to fold. Before they did they played each other one more time as a benefit game to raise enough money for their players, many from other towns in Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, to be able to have train fare home.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Heavyweight Champion of the World Sonny Liston in 1963. Wikipedia

Muhammed Ali – Sonny Liston Fight 1965

When Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston, considered by many before the fight to be the most fearsome heavyweight fighter of all time, in their first bout in 1964 there were immediate allegations that the fight was fixed. The Florida State Attorney (the fight had been held in Miami Beach) and a US Senate subcommittee held investigations and found no evidence of the fight being fixed. Internal FBI memos addressed to J. Edgar Hoover also indicated that some in the FBI believed the fight was fixed by organized crime figures in Las Vegas, but no formal investigation was opened.

Still there was considerable whispering, and when their second fight was held, in Lewiston, Maine in May 1965, it was watched closely for any illegal activities. Clay had by then changed his name to Ali. Controversy over both fighter’s contracts preceded the rematch, which was not recognized by the World Boxing Association as legitimate since they violated rules against contracts which guaranteed rematches. Liston was involved in a couple of high profile arrests between the fights. Pre-fight concerns over Liston involvement with crime figures and Ali’s relationship with the Nation of Islam generated exceptionally heavy security.

Liston went down in the first round, there was confusion over the count, and although Liston got back to his feet the timekeeper signaled that he was down for the count of ten, and the fight was over. The punch which allegedly knocked Liston down was missed by most who saw the fight, and has been debated ever since. Even more than in the first fight there were allegations that the fight had been fixed, for gambling purposes, since Ali was a heavy underdog despite winning the first fight.

Former FBI agent William Roemer later claimed that the FBI learned the fight was fixed. According to Roemer he was informed by a gym owner and boxing manager in Chicago that Liston’s wife told her husband since he had to lose he should do it early to avoid the possibility of injury (Liston had suffered a bad cut in the first fight with Ali). Although no firm evidence linking Liston to a fix has been presented, it has always been considered that he threw the fight.

Liston continued to fight following the second bout with Ali, and he continued to be associated with organized crime figures. When he died in late December 1970 his death was reported by the Las Vegas police as a heroin overdose. Whether he actually threw either of the fights with Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali has never been officially determined, but when Ali returned to his corner after Liston went down in the first round, he asked the corner man whether he had hit Liston. It seems even Ali missed the so-called phantom punch.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Lucchese family capo Paul Vario approved the Boston College Point Shaving scheme partially run by his associate Henry Hill. NYPD

Boston College Point Shaving Scandal

During the 1978 – 79 NCAA basketball season Rocco and Tony Perla, small time hoods in Pittsburgh linked with associates of the Lucchese organized crime family to bribe members of the Boston College basketball team to manipulate point spreads. The scheme was used in nine games and involved at least three Boston College players. The scheme involved the Perlas, Paul Mazzei, Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke, with the approval of Lucchese family capo Paul Vario. Hill and Burke were made famous through the film Goodfellas and the point shaving is mentioned in the film in passing.

The scheme involved using players to either lose within the spread or win by more than the spread, and did not require the players to actually throw the game, a feature which Hill later said made it easier to sell to the players. How much the players were paid has never been revealed. The scheme began in December 1978, and continued through February 10, 1979. Of the nine games in which the players were directed to manipulate the score, the gamblers won five times, lost three times (although the first loss was of a game in which they were testing the feasibility of the plan) and twice pushed, meaning that the amount bet was returned.

Although the mobsters went to some lengths to ensure that the bets made were scattered among several bookmakers, enough money was bet to shift the spread on one occasion as other bookmakers and lines-makers noticed unusual betting activity. The scheme came to an end when Jimmy Burke lost what Hill later said was $50,000 on that year’s BC-Holy Cross game, when the players closed to within the spread, but were supposed to lose by more than seven. They lost by two. Burke wanted to retaliate against the players according to Henry Hill, but in the end nothing happened.

When Hill turned into a government informant in 1980, as part of the deal he made with the authorities he revealed the full nature of the point-shaving scheme and identified all of the participants. Two Boston College players who had been in on the scheme, James Sweeney and Joseph Beaulieu, agreed to testify. Sweeney had participated in the scheme, Beaulieu claimed that he had been approached by Rick Kuhn, another player through which Henry Hill had run the scheme. In the end Sweeney was not charged for his role, although he was not granted immunity to obtain his testimony as some believe.

Rick Kuhn was sentenced to 10 years, later reduced to two and one third years. Burke was given 20 years. Paul Mazzei was sentenced to ten years, as was Tony Perla, and Rocco Perla was given four years. It had been Rocco Perla, a high school friend of Rick Kuhn, who initially suggested the scheme to Kuhn, who had agreed to a “bonus” when the gamblers won their bets, reported as being $2,500 per game. Henry Hill was not prosecuted for his involvement in the scheme.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Tulane University’s Lindy Boggs Center. Tulane dropped and later reinstated men’s basketball after a point shaving scandal. Wikimedia

Tulane University Point Shaving Scandal

In 1984 players on the Tulane University basketball team conspired with gamblers to fix three basketball games through point shaving. Two players involved in the scandal, Jon Johnson and Clyde Eads, provided prosecutors with information which led to the arrest of three other players, four additional students at Tulane, and two others in March of 1985. The games which were fixed were against Memphis State, which Tulane lost by 11 points as a 6 point underdog, and against Southern Mississippi, which Tulane won by a single point though they were a 9 point favorite. Fixing the game against Virginia Tech was discussed but the idea was abandoned when oddsmakers did not post a line for the game.

As the scandal was investigated several recruiting violations by Tulane, including the giving of cash to recruit John Williams, one of the players arrested for point shaving, were revealed. By the time the scandal ended Tulane had discontinued the basketball program. Williams was tried for the point shaving scandal twice, the first trial ended in a mistrial and in the second trial he was acquitted. His teammates David Dominique and Bobby Thompson pled guilty to the charges, as did the other principals involved. Johnson and Eads were granted immunity despite being involved in the scheme.

The players were paid in cash and cocaine for their cooperation. At least $17,000 was split between the five players involved in the two games in which they shaved points, according to the indictment handed down on the three players who were eventually charged. Because there were no trials for the other defendants, much of how the scandal was implemented is sealed in court records.

What is known is that Roland Ruiz, a New Orleans based bookmaker, was indicted on multiple counts of bribing the players, reaching them through other students who knew Williams. At least one of the students involved in the scheme placed a large bet on the Memphis State game, but did so legally in Las Vegas rather than through a bookmaker. Many other students were seen in Las Vegas making bets, attracting the attention of casino security, who informed the FBI of strange betting. Ruiz eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of illegal gambling and received a six month suspended sentence. Ruiz had originally been charged with bribing the students.

Tulane reinstated the basketball program in 1988. Williams went to the NBA playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Phoenix Suns, and Dallas Mavericks in his career. The Tulane scandal contained the elements of NCAA players using illegal drugs, recruiting violations in the form of cash payments to players, and the shaving of points in games, although in the end the punishment was mostly levied on the school, rather than the participants. As an aside, one of the district attorneys responsible for prosecuting the conspirators was Harry Connick, father of entertainer Harry Connick Jr.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Arizona State University Bridge on campus in Tempe, Arizona. Wikimedia

Arizona State University Point Shaving Scandal

Stevin Smith was the Sun Devils number 3 all-time scorer when he asked a teammate, Isaac Burton, to deliberately miss some free throws to hold down the score. Smith was in debt from gambling, and when Burton agreed what became a conspiracy to shave points in at least four games was born. The conspiracy eventually involved the two players, a former Arizona State student named Ben Silman and four others including Joseph Mangiamele, his father Dominic, both illegal bookmakers, Vincent Basso and Joseph Gagliano.

Silman was the mastermind of the scheme in which five games were to have been fixed by shaving points, accomplished successfully in four of them. Smith was in debt to Silman from gambling, and Silman suggested that the debt could be erased by point shaving in games. Smith later told Sports Illustrated that he shaved points off the spread while maintaining his own high scoring level by allowing the other team to score when he was on defense.

It was Silman who suggested that Smith have at least one accomplice on the floor, and Smith suggested it to Burton. According to Smith, on at least one game the other conspirators bet at least $1 million on the game in which they were unsuccessful in covering the spread. Smith was physically threatened if they were unable to win back what they lost. The amount of money being bet on the Arizona State games and the manner in which it was bet drew the attention of the FBI after again being informed of the activity by legal sports books. The FBI began investigating.

Rumors of Smith being investigated for illegal point shaving began before the season was over, and likely prevented him from being a high draft choice in the NBA. Smith and Burton later cooperated with investigators, and described the point shaving scheme in detail. Burton eventually received two months in jail and another six on home detention. Silman received 46 months in prison, and fines.

The Mangiameles also received jail time and home detention, and were fined. Arizona coach Bill Frieder resigned as a result of the scandal although there was no evidence of his involvement or awareness of the point shaving by his players. The exact amount of money Smith – who paid Burton out of his own share – was paid is disputed, but he admitted to having received $20,000 from Silman on several different occasions. Smith was sentenced to 366 days in prison for his role in the scandal.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
City College of New York is the only school in history to win the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same season. AP

The CCNY Point Shaving Scandal

Although known as the CCNY scandal, the 1951 investigation which originated in New York involved more than thirty players and several schools, and was tied to organized crime figures in New York and the Midwest. The schools involved included CCNY, which in 1950 won both the NIT and NCAA Tournaments, the only time that has ever been achieved. The other schools were New York University, Manhattan College, Long Island University, Bradley University, the University of Toledo, and the University of Kentucky.

The more than thirty players who admitted to participating in the scandal both shaved points and deliberately dropped games at the behest of gamblers linked to organized crime figures in New and Chicago from 1947 through 1950. More than eighty games were fixed across 17 states. Many of the players, in addition to being paid for throwing games, bet illegally on games in which they were playing and others based on information from their contacts.

Salvatore Sollazzo was a jeweler in New York, and the source of the money used to bribe players in the four New York area schools. Three other New York area bookmakers were also involved, as well as several gamblers. In October of 1951 it was revealed that three Kentucky players had accepted bribes to shave points in an NIT game played in Madison Square Garden against Loyola of Chicago in 1949. The three players were arrested. Later another player was indicted for perjury in New York, suspended from the Kentucky team, and Kentucky basketball was suspended by the NCAA for the 1952-53 season.

The majority of the players involved in the game fixing and point shaving scandal which rocked the sport in 1951 received suspended sentences, with the remainder receiving relatively light sentences. Many of the players were able to have charges dropped in return for cooperating with the authorities. Most of the fixers and gamblers involved in the scheme received short sentences, although Sollazzo was sentenced to 8 to 16 years for his role. Nearly all of the players were banned by the NBA.

OF the schools involved, none of the New York Schools ever returned to being major powers in college basketball, with CCNY downplaying its athletic programs and dropping to Division III. Long Island University closed its athletic program until 1957. Kentucky returned to basketball in 1953-54. Only Kentucky and Bradley have finished a season ranked in major national polls since the scandal. Toledo would go on to additional scandals involving more than one sport.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
The 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series to the Reds, but much of the story remains murky. Wikipedia

1919 World Series

Thanks to the motion picture industry the story of the 1919 World Series being thrown by several members of the Chicago White Sox is well known. Because of the scandal, baseball has long forbidden any association with gamblers and gambling, legal or otherwise. As a sport baseball does not readily lend itself to gambling as it does not have the point spread. There are betting lines published on baseball games daily, and there is betting activity on the game but not at the level of basketball or football. Still, the 1919 World Series was supposedly thrown by the Sox when they were bribed by a consortium of gamblers led by Arnold Rothstein.

There are some things about the story which are often forgotten. None of the players permanently banned from baseball were convicted in court of deliberately throwing the World Series. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned nine men, not the eight men out of fame. The ninth was Joe Gedeon, an infielder for the St. Louis Browns, who didn’t play in the series, but who heard of the arrangement from White Sox shortstop Swede Risberg. Gedeon bet on the series, and then informed Sox owner Charles Comiskey of the fix after the series was over. Comiskey told Landis of Gedeon’s foreknowledge of the events, and he too was banned for life.

None of the gamblers alleged to have been involved were convicted of anything either. Arnold Rothstein has long been believed to have been behind the scandal but there is as much evidence against his involvement as there is for him being the source of the plot. When the series was investigated by prosecutors no evidence against Rothstein was found and he denied even betting on the series, although he testified to the grand jury that he had been approached about a fix. Rothstein was not indicted, and whether it was his money used to fund the bribes is uncertain at best.

What links Rothstein to the fix is a series of notes from Sleepy Burns, a former player and small time gambler who approached the Sox players Eddie Cicotte and Chick Gandil. Burns gave the players messages regarding their demands which read A. R. agrees. That and Rothstein’s reputation are all the evidence which exists. Written statements by the players alleged to have referred to Rothstein vanished before the trial and the player’s refused to testify, citing their rights under the Fifth Amendment, so Rothstein’s own testimony denying his involvement has nothing on record to refute it.

The 1919 Black Sox scandal has often been explained as caused by Charles Comiskey’s reputation as a notorious tightwad. In fact, although Comiskey was certainly no spendthrift, he rewarded the players who did not take part in the fix by paying them bonuses equivalent to the difference between the winning and losing shares for the World Series. Nearly one hundred years later there are still unanswered questions regarding the Black Sox scandal.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Former NBA official Tim Donaghy manipulated the point spread in games he officiated. Wikipedia

NBA Betting Scandal

From 2005 to 2007 a National Basketball Association referee made bets on games which he was officiating, and during the games made calls which affected the point spread in order to win his bets. By the time the scandal ran its course the referee, Tim Donaghy, was accusing other referees of deliberately miscalling playoff games by the direction of the league in order to extend playoff series to the maximum number of games, thus earning the league more money.

Donaghy was a 13 year veteran of NBA officiating and reportedly had a gambling problem leading to heavy debts. Initial reports tied him to members of organized crime, later it was revealed that the alleged mobsters had exaggerated their connections in order to impress Donaghy. Donaghy also provided tips to a former classmate from high school on bets, and received compensation for his advice. Donaghy provided information to bookies using code advising them of inside information regarding the physical condition of players. He admitted to receiving more than $30,000 from bookies for the information.

When Donaghy appeared in court he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and was sentenced to fifteen months in federal prison. In the months between entering his plea and being sentenced – a span of almost a year – Donaghy was believed to have been cooperating with the FBI. How the FBI discovered his gambling activity, and how he was manipulating the results of games, remains largely speculative. Research by sports gambling websites indicated that in many of the games Donaghy was working the point spread shifted significantly, an indication of large bets being placed on the games.

Whether Donaghy was providing information or controlling the point spread for members of organized crime has not been ascertained. One handicapper who studied several of Donaghy’s games told ESPN that be believed a mob connected bookie turned the referee in to the FBI. The same handicapper explained the several ways that a referee could influence the score of the game, beyond merely calling or not calling fouls.

When Donaghy accused the NBA of telling officials how to call certain games the league responded with a strong denial of desiring or allowing games to be manipulated for any purpose. The league also modified its rules covering gambling by officials, allowing them to gamble in casinos for example, but not betting on sports. Whether Donaghy was a single bad official or there are others affecting the outcomes of NBA games is a question still asked by basketball fans.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
The University of Toledo point shaving scandal affected both the football and basketball programs. Wikimedia

University of Toledo Football and Basketball Point Shaving

Some of the most reliable sources for information that a game has been fixed are the handicappers and bookmakers operating legally in Las Vegas. It was consultants for the Las Vegas casinos and sports books which first identified the betting irregularities which resulted from the Arizona State points shaving scandal, and they were the source of the initial investigations into allegations of point shaving at the University of Toledo.

Three University of Toledo running backs provided a gambler from the Detroit area information regarding the team. The gambler, Ghazi Manni, also bribed the student-athletes to take action on the field to alter the results of football games through the 2005 and 2006 seasons, including the 2005 GMAC Bowl, played on December 21, 2005 in Mobile, Alabama. In that game a Toledo running back, Quinton Broussard, fumbled the ball in the first half. In 2011 Broussard entered a plea of guilty to charges resulting from the point shaving scheme, admitting that the fumble was deliberate.

Manni worked with a conspirator besides those on the University of Toledo football team, Mitchell Karam. The pair also bribed University of Toledo basketball players in another point shaving scheme concurrent with that of the football team. They were also eventually charged with fixing horse races by bribing jockeys. Over the course of the football point shaving scheme Broussard received over $2,000 for his contributions to throwing games.

Broussard and the other running backs involved, Adam Cuomo and Harvey McDougle Jr, all entered pleas of guilty and were placed on probation for conspiracy. Manni first recruited Cuomo for the scheme, and Cuomo recruited his two teammates to join. At least one other player was approached by Cuomo and refused to participate in the point shaving.

Manni made over $700,000 over the course of the point shaving schemes affecting Toledo football and basketball games, and was sentenced to 70 months in prison for his crimes. Karam was sentenced to two years. Both Karam and Manni were believed to have links to the Detroit area Giacalone mob crew, but none of the known associates were charged in the University of Toledo scandal.

10 Confirmed Cases of Gamblers Influencing the Outcome of Historical Sporting Events
Philadelphia mobster Frank “Blinky” Palermo was a notorious boxing manager and fixer. US Senate

Jake La Motta and Billy Fox

On November 14, 1947 Jake La Motta fought Billy Fox in New York. Prior to the fight, as La Motta admitted years later in testimony before the Kefauver committee, an arrangement was made in which La Motta would receive $20,000 and a title fight if he lost the fight with Fox. He allowed Fox to win by knockout, taking a dive in the fourth round. The fix was arranged by Jake’s brother Joey, who served as his manager, and organized crime figures in New York.

Prior to his dive in the fourth round, La Motta tried to make the fight appear to be legitimate, and according to his later testimony was dismayed to find Cox nearly ready to fall after being hit with just a few jabs. By the second round La Motta was laying against the ropes, allowing himself to be hit at will, and afraid to punch back lest his opponent would be injured.

The New York State Athletic Commission immediately suspended La Motta after the fight, and withheld the purses for both fighters pending an investigation. La Motta was not the first fighter to take a dive when fighting Billy Fox, who was managed by known mobster Frank “Blinky” Palermo. Palermo “owned” Fox, as well as several other fighters. An associate of the mob in Philadelphia, Palermo was known to have arranged for Fox to win in several earlier fights.

In return for throwing the fight La Motta was awarded a championship fight, held in Detroit, which he won. For the rest of his career, and well after it was over he was remembered for the thrown fight against Fox.

In 1960 Billy Fox told his story to Sports Illustrated. In the article he referred to several earlier fights when he suspected that the outcome was fixed, based on the behavior of Palermo before and during the fight. In one he mentioned Palermo, Fox’s manager, in the opponent’s corner during the course of a round. In discussing the La Motta fight Fox told the magazine that Palermo swore to him the La Motta did not take a dive and that the fight was completely legitimate. Fox didn’t believe him.

 

Sources:

Blondy Wallace and the Biggest Football Scandal Ever (pdf)

The Boston Globe archives

Sports Illustrated archives

The Sporting News

ESPN

The Toledo Blade

Encyclopedia Brittanica

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