October 4, 2007


Oddsmakers In Vegas Play New Sports Role: Pro Leagues, Colleges Turn to Betting Firms To Thwart Cheating (TAMARA AUDI and ADAM THOMPSON, October 3, 2007, Wall Street Journal)

In September 2005, a stranger from the Midwest walked into an MGM Mirage casino here and bet around $20,000 against the University of Toledo football team. Casino officials grew suspicious: It was an unusually big wager for a school like Toledo, which was heavily favored. They wondered whether the bettor had inside information that the game was rigged.

So they called a company named Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc. LVSC's core business is advising casinos on upcoming sports events -- providing what gamblers call betting lines or point spreads. That means the company has a trove of sports statistics and casino contacts. LVSC, too, became skeptical as it checked the movement of betting lines and watched Toledo game tapes. That fall, MGM Mirage and LVSC officials reported their suspicions to Nevada gambling regulators.

In March 2007, the Vegas insiders received a vindication of sorts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that it had uncovered a conspiracy between a gambler and a Toledo football player to influence the outcome of the Ohio school's basketball and football games. [...]

During the 2004 college football season, bookmakers began telling LVSC that they noticed an uptick of bets on teams in the NCAA's Mid-American Conference, Mr. White says.

The next football season, Mr. White and his staff say sports-book operators alerted them to unusually heavy betting on games involving one Mid-American Conference school, Toledo.

MGM Mirage, which runs 10 sports books on the Las Vegas Strip, noticed that one gambler, who identified himself to them as living in the Midwest, cast repeated wagers against Toledo ahead of its Sept. 17, 2005, meeting with Temple University. One bet was for about $20,000, more than four times the size of a typical big wager on a Mid-American matchup. MGM Mirage says the gambler correctly bet that Toledo would fail to beat the point spread.

Toledo's next game, on Sept. 27, attracted a wave of money as well. MGM Mirage eventually removed the team's events from its boards.

After reviewing game tapes and betting-line movement, Mr. White says he and his staff grew suspicious that the games might have been manipulated somehow. One scheme, point shaving, occurs when gamblers pay players to score fewer points than they might if giving full effort, then bet against those players' teams.

In October, MGM Mirage officials alerted the Nevada Gaming Control Board. Mr. White notified the board as well, he says. That month, the board opened an investigation into Toledo's games, says its chief of enforcement, Jerry Markling.

The NCAA confirms it had conversations with the Gaming Control Board in 2005, but that the board had declined to provide its internal report on the investigation. "Nothing was found at that time that they thought would require further review by the NCAA," says NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn. A board official says internal reports can only be shared with law-enforcement agencies, and that the NCAA was provided with a briefing over the telephone.

Meanwhile, the FBI's Detroit office had started its own investigation, acting on what federal officials say was separate information. According to an affidavit it filed in March 2007 in Detroit's federal court, the FBI conducted wiretaps from November 2005 to December 2006 of a Detroit-area gambler it identified as "Gary."

According to federal documents, Gary offered Toledo football and basketball players cash and goods to influence game scores. He attempted to influence the score of the GMAC Bowl, between Toledo and the University of Texas at El Paso, the affidavit says, and allegedly offered one player up to $10,000 to sit out particular games. In all, the scheme ran from fall 2003 to winter 2006, according to the documents. Federal officials say the investigation continues.

The NCAA's Ms. Osburn says the association has been working with the University of Toledo on the issue and adds, "These types of allegations are precisely why the NCAA continues to take such a strong stance against any sports wagering."

Even as the Toledo match fixing was allegedly under way, another NCAA conference was forming an alliance in Vegas. The Big 12, which includes powerhouses such as the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma, hired LVSC to provide game-by-game reports for its football and men's basketball games beginning with the 2005 football season. Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe says the conference wasn't responding to a specific incident, but says it was concerned that its antigambling education for players and coaches wasn't a strong enough defense. "All of us have a healthy fear of whether this is going on in our conferences," he says.

For the reports it prepares for the Big 12, LVSC looks at statistics and watches games on the flat-screen TVs that line its office walls, evaluating whether each team and its key players performed up to expectations. Accounting for variables such as luck, weather and player health, it grades performances from A to F.

If betting lines show unusual movements, or if a player or team appears to break from typical performance, the report is given a "red flag" with a score that denotes the level of seriousness. Flag points can be assigned for a favorite that fails to beat the spread or suffers a blowout loss, or a player who underperforms without explanation.

LVSC also monitors casinos' betting lines. Unusual shifts in the line can add more points. It's not unusual for a report's flag to bear four or five points out of a possible 15, Mr. White says, while a rare eight- or nine-point flag would likely prompt conference officials to look at the game more closely, he says.

...either gamblers have bought off their opponents, or else God is as big a fan of the Rockies as they are of Him.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 4, 2007 4:35 PM

Well, I don't know if this would explain Notre Dame, or Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten Plus Northwestern Conference.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 4, 2007 7:21 PM