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.