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

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.



Blondy Wallace and the Biggest Football Scandal Ever (pdf)

The Boston Globe archives

Sports Illustrated archives

The Sporting News


The Toledo Blade

Encyclopedia Brittanica