Stats tell a different story

The official investigation might have given the Donaghy affair the all-clear, but the numbers seem to tell another story. From Jeff Haney at the LV Sun:

Throughout the saga of disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy, Las Vegas sports betting analyst R.J. Bell has done a thorough job of examining the scandal from a point-spread perspective.

An investigation ordered by NBA Commissioner David Stern and released Thursday found no evidence Donaghy made any calls to influence the outcome of games. It also found no evidence of any illegal activity by refs other than Donaghy.

Donaghy is serving a 15-month sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.

The conclusions of the probe ordered by Stern run counter to “some extremely damning statistics” derived from studying point-spread moves, Bell claimed in his latest report on the controversy.

The first 15 games of the 2006-07 NBA season officiated by Donaghy that had point-spread moves of at least 1 1/2 points were undefeated in favor of the line move, meaning bettors on the side of the line move cashed all 15 times. The odds of that occurring randomly are greater than 32,000-1, Bell pointed out.

“To conclude Donaghy did not fix the games, you have to believe that a person troubled enough to provide inside information to criminals was able to referee games in which he had a financial interest without any bias,” according to Bell, proprietor of the locally based betting Web site

Bell’s research also showed that 10 games officiated by referee Scott Foster during the period in question had moves in the betting line of 2 points or more. Again, in those 10 games, bettors on the side of the line move cashed every time.

Analyst cites ‘damning statistics’ against ref

THIS is the kind of analysis that needs to be done–similar to what Stephen Levitt wrote regarding sumo wrestlers in Freakonomics.

And, from this reading, the evidence seems to be clear: when heavy betting dictated a line shift, the shifting money was undefeated. That seems pretty conclusive. I wonder what the NBA things of this number crunching?

Or is it a case of willful blindness? Unless someone pushes this, I’m guessing that no one at the league has any incentive to continue the investigation.

Now I’m just speculating here, and this is hardly a legal opinion, but could losing bettors in those games have a class action suit against the NBA? If their employees conspired to fix games and caused them to lose money, do they have any redress against the league? Do the casinos, who had to pay out winning bets on games that might have been fixed? I haven’t heard anyone mention this yet, so it may be the dumbest idea ever. But I wonder if anyone else thinks this could be possible.

Sporrts betting rampage

Jeff Haney over at the LV Sun’s had a bad run with Vegas sports books recently. In his latest column, he comes just short of calling for an immediate ban on all sports betting. Here’s the apex of the piece:

My opinion of elected public officials places them slightly below Saturday morning scamdicapper slime on the human evolutionary scale, so I harbor no high hopes they’re capable of taking any meaningful action against unethical sports books.

Still, I wonder if there are any Nevada politicians who:

A grasp at least the rudiments of sports betting and therefore understand why the conduct of Boyd Gaming is ethically reprehensible, and B are not in the pocket of Big Gaming.

I fully realize the odds against that particular two-team parlay coming in are astronomical.

Time for something drastic? – Las Vegas Sun

Even a sports book manager would have to admit that’s good writing.

Monsoon wagering

I and pretty much anyone else who’s ever seriously studied gambling have often said that people will bet on anything. Some proof to support that contention? I offer into evidence the $1.2 billion Indians reportedly bet on monsoons each year. From Online Casino Advisory:

Itinerant traders spread the tradition of monsoon betting in the 1800s; British authorities banned the practice in 1890. The ban worked as well as most prohibition, which is to say, not at all.

Bookies allow monsoon gambling among established clientele to prevent detection by law enforcement. Yet, even with this restriction on play, it is estimated that over $1.2 billion is wagered each year on the monsoon.

Asked the attraction on gambling on the weather, one player pointed out that there is no danger of a fix. Sports gamblers familiar with recent NBA news understand this observation well.

This year the monsoon came earlier than anytime in over a hundred years, raking in profits for bookies. Still, there was a silver lining to all concerned: the early rain signals a bountiful harvest, after a period of poor crop growth. Food supplies both locally and internationally will be positively effected.

Gambling on Rain in India Big Business

I’ll disagree with the contention that “there’s no danger of a fix.” If it’s gambling, there’s a way to rig it. You could, for example, fudge the results from the weather station. You could also take bets and not pay out the winners.

My headline is a riff on Monsoon Wedding, which seemed to be better than trying to invent a pun with monsoon and gambling.

Also, my apologies on inflicting this obviously-not-AP-style prose on you. The kernel of the story is interesting, but the way it’s written is, like something you’ve left in the fridge a week too long, a little off. Is it the over-use of the passive tense? The absence of any quote or any attribution for the information? The fact that only the top third of the jpg loads? It’s all of these, and more.

Since I’m teaching non-fiction writing this summer, I’m attuned to these kinds of deficiencies. Seriously, if any of my students read this, this article is a perfect illustration of what not to do.

I’ve got a philosophical quibble, too. The closing line of the article says that we must remember that gambling is an ancient tradition. I’m assuming, from the context, that the author is a gambling advocate and is using this fact–tradition–to bolster his argument that gambling is good.

I don’t think that tradition by itself is a justification for anything. Lots of things have a long tradition: slavery, misogyny, tribal warfare, wine in a box. That doesn’t necessarily make them something to strive for.

Gambling’s long history isn’t a reason to embrace it. Rather, it’s an illustration of the enduring appeal that it has. Because gambling is popular, it has been around for a long time–not vice versa.

Sports betting do-over in AC?

I could write a book about the short-sighted/self-defeating things that have kept Atlantic City from becoming a truly great resort. Knowing me, I probably will some day. If I do, there will be a chapter about the NJ legislature’s baffling failure to approve sports betting before the feds closed the window in 1993. Back then, I was still just a college kid, but I thought passing on sports betting was brutally stupid. Fifteen years later, it turns out I was right, and the state legislature is asking for a do-over. From the AC Press:

A bill to get sports betting in Atlantic City casinos cleared the Assembly on Thursday, even though Republicans and some Senate supporters pointed out that federal law still bars the practice.

The bill would seek voter approval in November to legalize in-person wagers on professional sports in special Atlantic City casino parlors. The bill heads to the Senate following Thursday’s 57-17 vote, with one abstention.

If signed into law and if voters approve the move, then supporters say the state would challenge the federal government in court by arguing the wager ban was an overreach of Congress’ constitutional powers to regulate commerce between states.

“This is something that will be done in Atlantic City, in New Jersey,” Assemblyman Nelson Albano, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said after the vote. “There won’t be any interstate commerce to regulate.” He also said new federal leaders could be elected in November who favors sports wagers.

But state Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said in a statement that the state lawmakers alone cannot make it happen. “I believe New Jersey voters would support having state-regulated sports betting in casinos, but I don’t want to create false hopes,” Whelan said.

The state’s chance to legalize sports betting all but died when it did not pass legislation by a 1993 federal deadline. Currently sports bets are legal in Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.

Bill backers said sports betting would boost resort casinos, which because of competition, a weak economy and a partial smoking ban saw revenue fall 5.7 percent in 2007, the first-ever drop in three decades of legalized gambling.

Assembly OKs move toward sports betting in Atlantic City

You’ve got the problem with Atlantic City in a nutshell here. Nobody does anything until its too late. Instead of anticipating the future and changing course to better adapt, you just bury your head in the sand (after getting rid of all the cats) and refuse to confront change. Then, when reality smacks you out of your willful ignorance, you blame everyone but yourself.

Only a fool couldn’t have seen back in 1993 that casino proliferation was going to continue, and that sports betting would help Atlantic City differentiate itself.

Here’s a hypothetical: You’re going on a road trip with a friend/loved one/new hire, let’s say driving from San Diego up to Las Vegas. You stop in San Bernardino and say, “We’ve still got a long way to go, so if you want to eat something you’d better get it here. I don’t want to stop again until we get into town.” Your friend demurs, and you get into your car and keep on heading north on I-15. Then once you’ve hit that dead zone between Barstow and Baker, your friend starts complaining that they’re desperately hungry and want to stop and get something to eat immediately. Problem is, there’s no place to go. In this analogy, the need for revenues is represented by food, and your non-gender specific friend is the NJ legislature. I don’t want to be accused of being cryptic or anything.

So I wish them the best of luck in passing this, but it shouldn’t have come to this in the first place.

Gambling ref pleads guilty

Tim Donaghy, the NBA ref accused of gambling on games that he refereed, has plead guilty. From USA Today:

The Boston Celtics, favored by four points, faced the 76ers in Philadelphia on Dec. 13 and won 101-81 in what seemed to be just another NBA blowout featuring bad Atlantic Division teams.

On or about the same date in Pennsylvania, an NBA referee assigned to that game had spoken in code with someone by phone to give him his pick for what NBA team to bet on. The next day, that “top-tier” referee, Tim Donaghy, met with gambling associates in Pennsylvania to pick up his cash payment for the pick.

On or about Dec. 26, Donaghy made a similar call to give another pick. That night he worked the Memphis Grizzlies-Wizards game in Washington, won 116-101 by the 7½-point favorite home team.

And on or about March 11 of this year, Donaghy met with a man in Toronto and got a cash payment. That night he worked the game won by the 6½-point favorite Raptors 120-119 vs. the Seattle SuperSonics.

In a court very different from where he once worked, Donaghy, 40, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felony charges in the gambling scandal that has stunned the sports world. Released on $250,000 bond from federal court in Brooklyn, he faces up to 25 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 9 for conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.

“Some of my picks included games I had been assigned to referee,” Donaghy said. It is not known if he made officiating calls during the game to help the team he predicted would win.

The “rogue” referee, as NBA Commissioner David Stern described Donaghy, must pay a $500,000 fine and at least $30,000 in restitution.

Former ref Donaghy details his gambling deception –

As with the Tocchet case, I would hope that some good can come out of what is an awful situation for everyone involved–namely, a serious discussion of the relationship between gambling and sports. But, since this is just a “rogue” referee, I guess we won’t be hearing too much more about gambling and sports—until the next “isolated incident” erupts into scandal.

NBA ref gambling scandal

This might put the kabosh on plans to bring an NBA franchise to Las Vegas…or not. An NBA ref has reportedly used his position to influence the outcome of games he had action on. From UPI:

An NBA referee is reportedly under investigation by U.S. authorities for allegedly fixing games over the past two seasons, the New York Post said Friday.

The newspaper’s report said the National Basketball Association was aware of the investigation but had been requested by the FBI not to comment.

The investigation allegedly involved members of New York’s organized crime community to whom the unidentified referee owed money because of a gambling problem. The Post said the referee allegedly made calls to affect the outcome of games he was betting on. The number of affected games was said to be “in the double digits.”

The FBI’s yearlong investigation was concluding and arrests were expected soon, the report said.
United Press International – NewsTrack – Sports – Report: NBA ref probed for gambling

That’s about the biggest crime you can pull in sports today–fixing games damages the credibility of the league itself.

That being said, it doesn’t look like this case has anything to do with legal sports betting. If the ref was in debt to New York’s “organized crime community” (what a euphemism!), he was probably betting with an illegal bookie to start with.

Still, it’s a bad way for the words “NBA” and “gambling” to be seen in the same sentence. I’m not sure this will hurt Mayor Goodman’s efforts to bring a team here, but it certainly won’t help.

New LVBP article is elementary

Well, it’s a few days old, but you can still read it in the Las Vegas Business Press. Here’s a tease:

It’s often said that college athletes get the star treatment because they are, well, stars. When 100,000 people pack a stadium to hear a talk on Joyce’s use of light and dark imagery in “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”, they say, then English departments will get the acclaim — and funding — that football programs do.

Indeed, right here in Las Vegas, it’s plain to see that college sports are far more popular than academics. More than a decade removed from his stint as head coach of the Running Rebels, Jerry Tarkanian is still a public figure, even appearing in commercials. But what kind of name recognition does Wole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate and true academic all-star, have among the general population? It’s doubtful you’ll see the acclaimed writer shilling used cars on your TV any time soon, because, despite his achievements, most people just don’t care.

Betting just might raise the profile of legitimate academics. If there is a line on a spelling bee — maybe the least useful test of intellect — imagine the kind of buzz that could be generated for college-level student achievement. How many students in PoliSci 102 will score over 90 on the final exam? What percentage of History 101 students will comprehend the professor’s explanation of the causes of the Civil War? The possibilities are endless.

Suddenly, the general public would have a reason to care about education (since preparing the next generation for the future is obviously not much of a draw). Organic chemistry and macroeconomics might elbow aside football and baseball as fan favorites. Academic departments could build huge arena/classrooms with the latest equipment. Maybe someone would finally discover Fermat’s Lost Theorem if there was an over/under on it.

Elementary, my dear Watson. Spelling that is

It’s another piece in the “modest proposal” vein, where I hope that by taking an idea to its logical conclusion, I can make people think about things in a different way. In this case, the idea is: what if people cared as much about education as they do about sports? I made the same point but hopefully a little better in a KNPR commentary that might have aired already.

You might remember a post a few weeks ago about the spelling bee. I really do find it compelling TV, and think it would be neat to try to televize other feats of academic achievement.

Then again, I thought that tivoing a Buck Rogers in the 25th Century marathon was a good idea. I can guarantee that most of those episodes are going to be deleted without being watched. I thought I’d get things off on the right foot by watching the episode where Gary Coleman guest stars as a boy genius cryogenically frozen in the 20th century and awoken in the 25th to become the president of a planet. Although it was a whimsical notion, the uninspired plot and bare-bones budget really killed most of the enjoyment. It’s not quite bad enough to fall into the “so bad it’s good” category, a la “Manos:” The Hands of Fate or anything by Ed Wood.

There is some funny stuff, though. The headquarters of the Earth Defense Directorate, apparently, are in the 1-bedroom apartment of Dr. Elias Huer. Seriously–you never see any kind of control room, or galactic senate–just a viewscreen in his room. And the wedding celebrations for Princess Ardala (who has a tantalizing array of metal bikinis, at least) and Buck featured entertainment by a quarter of roller skaters! It definitely dates the action to the late 1970s, in an almost endearing way.

All this is just my roundabout way of saying that I’m acutely aware that my taste in TV might not be for everyone, so I doubt that we’ll be seeing History 101 final exams broadcast on ESPN2 anytime soon.

You can watch, but you can’t bet

Here in the US, we are relatively insulated from World Cup fever. But in most of the world, passions run high, and the tournament is a holiday of sorts. Even religious devotion takes a backseat to “football,” to a point. From the Chicago Tribune:

The chief of Cambodia’s Buddhist monks is cutting his charges some slack for the duration of the World Cup: They may watch the matches on television, but no cheering or getting excited. (Much like U.S. fans on Monday). And absolutely no betting. The country’s holy men — more than 90 percent of Cambodia’s 13 million people are Buddhist — normally aren’t supposed to watch TV, movies or artistic displays. But Supreme Patriarch Non Ngeth is willing to make allowances for such a special occasion as the World Cup. “The monks can watch the games on TV but they may not bet on the games,” Non Ngeth said. “So far, I have received some complaints that some monks are betting during this World Cup tournament.” According to the strictest tenets of Buddhism, monks should abstain from pleasurable activity. Gambling is a major no-no. He also says he urged the country’s monks, if they do watch the matches, not to scream or laugh. “Cheering or screaming while watching TV are acts appropriate for children,” he said.

No cheering–or gambling–in the temple | Chicago Tribune

Somehow, “a major no-no” sounds a lot less serious than “a mortal sin.”

Gambling and the mob

One question I get a lot is, “When did the mob leave Las Vegas?” I usually answer that organized crime is present in every major American city (and probably every major city in the world), so it is still here.

As I’ve said before, the idea of the mob “controlling” Las Vegas was and is a bit simplistic. Certainly several people involved with organized crime (Meyer Lansky, most significantly) had hidden interests in Strip casinos, but did “the mob,” as an entity, systematically acquire, build, and control the major resorts of the Strip? I wasn’t there, so I can’t say for sure, but it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory to me, the sort of thing that is not falsifiable–can you prove that a secret cabal of mobsters DIDN’T control Las Vegas?

So I was interested to read a story in the Star-Ledger about sports betting (which is in the headlines so much these days) and organized crime:

One operation served working-class clients in North Jersey. The other sprouted in the state’s southern end and catered to millionaire athletes.

But police say the two disparate gambling rings dismantled this month shared an attribute: organized crime.

The multimillion-dollar betting operation run by a state trooper and former NHL star Rick Tocchet had ties to the Bruno/Scarfo crime family in Philadelphia, according to the State Police. And Bergen County prosecutors said a reputed Genovese family solider oversaw a sports book that processed $1 million or more a week in bets.

When it comes to illegal sports wagering, experts say, it’s a safe bet the mob is involved.

“They may get involved in more lucrative schemes here and there, but the day-in and day-out rent is paid by the gambling,” said Kevin McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who headed the U.S. Attorney’s organized crime strike force in New Jersey.

The takedown of both rings was the latest proof that, even with the proliferation of legalized gambling and online wagering, the mob’s stranglehold on sports gambling remains intact.

These days, the agent said, some of the sophisticated rings are following the lead of corporate America. “They’ve outsourced some of their labor,” he said.

Instead of shelling out thousands each month to rent and protect an apartment in the Northeast, such groups are paying meager fees for wire rooms and phone banks in places like Costa Rica, where the gambling is legal and the bookmaking operations go unnoticed.

Still unclear is how the explosion of online betting will affect traditional bookmakers.

“The mob doesn’t like competition and those groups provide easy competition,” said McCarthy, the former prosecutor who is now a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “The mob lost control of Las Vegas. I think the same thing might happen in sports betting.”
Gambling busts show mob is still a big player

I’m not privy to the same kinds of data as those involved in law enforcement are, but I imagine that Antigua would probably take exception to the claim that bookmaking is “unnoticed” there. In fact, the Antiguan government filed suit against the United States to force the recognition of its online bookmaking.

As I said in Cutting the Wire, the whole illegal gambling/organized crime problem boils down to a fundamental ambiguity: if placing wagers isn’t a crime, but profiting from accepting them is, there isn’t much of a stigma attached to the business of illegal betting. Coupled with the fact that most citizens would prefer to see finite resources directed against higher-priority targets (terrorist groups at the top of the list), and it’s easy to see why illegal gambling flourishes.

Marathon betting

It’s easy for most people to separate their work and personal lives. By day they are an assistant account manager or food service technician, and by night they surf for porn or watch reality TV.
It’s getting harder and harder for me to draw the line. Working on Roll the Bones, I know that I have 769 pages of manuscript to get into publishable shape; that’s taking up most of my free time. But I still get to do some fun stuff, which for me includes training to run the New Las Vegas Marathon. For months, I’ve enjoyed running as a respite from work and gambling.

Suddenly, running and gambling are part of the same story. Check this email out:

History will be made at this week’s New Las Vegas Marathon when you’ll not only be able to run the world-famous Las Vegas Strip for the first time, you’ll be part of the only Marathon in the nation you can gamble on. In order to bring an unprecedented level of excitement to the race, you’ll be able to bet on the winner of The Challenge and the top male and female professional runners.

This Friday at 1:00pm at the Professional Runners News Conference, the New Las Vegas Marathon will announce the time differential for The Challenge. The Challenge is an L.A. Marathon innovation in which the Professional Women Runners start the race in advance of the Professional Men. Past statistics of this year’s field of professional runners will determine the time differential. The first runner to cross the Finish Line wins a $50,000 first place cash prize and a $50,000 bonus for winning The Challenge.

You can learn more about the marathon here. If you live in Vegas, please consider volunteering–every little bit helps, and the runners really appreciate it.

Anyway, it’s a strange feeling to see gambling and running come together like this. But I’m going to turn it to your advantage, and give you an absolute lock: you can bet the house that I will NOT win the 2005 New Las Vegas Marathon. I’ll be satisfied if I finished, and thrilled if I do so in less than 4 hours.

It’s so typical that people in Vegas have to take a time-honored athletic tradition like the marathon and turn it into another way to gamble. Not that I’m complaining–those gambling taxes (partially) pay my salary.