Gambling carries an inherent risk of cheating. There will always be an incentive to gain an advantage when possible, and when the stakes are high, even honest people can be compromised.
Since the dawn of sports gambling, there has always been a concern among league officials that the competitive integrity of their respective sports will be in jeopardy. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that gambling and competitive sports have co-existed for so long with only a few major instances of known cheating. With that being said, here are six major scandals that shocked the sports world.
1 – Donaghy Disgraced
NBA official Tim Donaghy had a long career as an NBA official. While he was widely respected (and unknown by most outside the league), he quickly fell from grace in 2007. An investigation from the FBI revealed that he had not only bet on NBA games, but had given information to gamblers due to having debts he couldn’t pay.
To this day, it remains unclear whether or not Donaghy used his whistle to manipulate the final scores of games he wagered on, but his winning percentage would suggest he had an impact. Throughout a six-week stretch where he was in contact with high-stakes gambler James Battista, the duo had a staggering win rate of 88%.
The penalty for his conduct was serious, and in 2008, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison for his participation in the gambling scheme.
2 – Mob Ties
Throughout the years, organized crime organizations have often had their hand in manipulating sporting events for gambling purposes. When you combine college student athletes who need money with a gang of rich criminals, you can see where things might end up.
In the 1978-79 NCAA basketball season, Boston College player Rick Kuhn met Henry Hill of New York’s infamous Lucchese crime family.
The pair conspired to fix nine games over the course of the season in exchange for $10,000. Kuhn was able to persuade two additional teammates to join in the effort in exchange for a nice payday.
The three Golden Eagles players shaved points in several games, which led to Hill winning more than $100,000 during the season. The scheme came crashing down for Kuhn who, following investigation, was sentenced to 28 months in prison.
3 – It Was 1951
Perhaps the most staggering aspect of the 1951 college basketball point-shaving scandal is the sheer magnitude of the operation. More than 35 active and former players that played at prominent schools like Kentucky and Long Island University (a big deal at the time) were in on fixing games over four years.
The penalties for the 20 players who were indicted, as well as the schools, were severe. Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, two All-Americans and first-round NBA picks were banned from the league. Sherman White, an LIU standout, was barred from the NBA and did nine months in prison.
In addition to the consequences suffered by the players, Adolph Rupp’s 1951 NCAA title-winning Wildcats received the “death penalty,” and the team had to sit out the 1952-53 season altogether.
4 – It Ain’t All Roses
During his time as a player and a manger, Major League Baseball all-time hit leader Pete Rose gambled on countless games, many of which he was directly involved in. As manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he would frequently place wagers of up to $2,000 on games.
While there’s no question that gambling on games as manager is wrong, Rose has maintained through it all that he never bet against his own team. However, Rose’s complicated relationship with the truth might lead to speculation that his assertion isn’t reality.
It might be hard to feel sympathetic towards someone who knowingly violated the rules for years, but Rose has paid a steep price for his misdeeds. He was banned from baseball, and the baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. He hasn’t stopped trying to get in ever since, but the prospect seems unlikely at best.
5 – March Madness
As the Final Four was approaching, a grand jury in Chicago was investigating point-shaving allegations against two Northwestern Wildcat players. They had been accused of shaving points in three conference tournament games during the 1994-95 season.
One of the most puzzling parts of the scandal is that Northwestern guard Kenneth Dion Lee had already been suspended by the school for six games for gambling on other sporting events.
Lee allegedly brought two other players on board in an effort to shave points in the Big Ten tournament games. He was paid $4,000 by two California 27-year-olds for his efforts in coordinating the fix and convincing the other players to participate.
Surprisingly, Northwestern was not handed down any sanctions from the NCAA in the wake of the scandal.
6 – Black Sox
Perhaps the most infamous of any betting scandal in American sports history took place in 1919. The effects of it would be felt for decades to come. It could be argued that no other event had as much significance in shaping the landscape of sports gambling.
The Chicago White Sox, led by “Shoeless” Joe Jackson were set to face the Cincinnati Reds in the 1919 World Series. Arnold Rothstein, a noted businessman and racketeer, jumped on an opportunity to take advantage of the underpaid White Sox players.
The conditions of the deal were that the White Sox would intentionally lose the (best-of-nine) series. The Reds won the series in eight games, but that was just the beginning of the story.
In 1920, a grand jury investigated the allegations of corruption and eventually eight players and five gamblers were found to be involved in the fix. The findings would result in a commissioner-imposed lifetime ban for all eight White Sox players.
Although Shoeless Joe was said to have demanded compensation in exchange for not revealing the scheme, his guilt is still debated today. He was one of the series’ top players, and was said to have been threatened by the gamblers. Nonetheless, he was barred from pro baseball and Hall of Fame.
As sports gambling continues to become legal, the issue of fixing games, or coordination between gamblers and players, is undoubtedly of concern. However, higher salaries in professional sports and increasingly transparent and safe gambling networks have done a good job at combatting inside jobs.
As we move toward the unchartered waters of legalized, widespread sports gambling, there will be a heightened awareness of the potential for gamblers to influence games. We can only hope this will lead to fair competition for both bettors and athletes in the future!