The latest collegiate betting scandal has come to light in the last few weeks, as University of Toledo running back Scooter McDougle was indicted in US District Court on charges of 'participating in a bribery scheme to influence sporting contests.' As was the case in the another fairly recent betting scandal, a point shaving scheme among Arizona State basketball players, the legalized, regulated Las Vegas sportsbooks were instrumental in uncovering the plot.
The details of the game fixing charges are still murky, with federal authorities reticent to expose many of their allegations prior to a hearing later this week. We do know that a Sterling Heights, Michigan man by the name of Ghazi 'Gary' Manni, a 50-year-old businessman, is regarded as the ringleader of the caper according to the Toledo Blade. McDougle and Manni initially met at a Toledo cellular phone business owned by a friend of Manni's and frequented by Toledo athletes.
Manni allegedly invited the athletes to gamble and dine at Greektown Casino in Detroit. One player was offered $10,000 to sit out a football game, while others received cash, groceries, merchandise and other gifts. McDougle told FBI investigators he received a car, telephone and other items of value, but insisted he never changed the way he played to affect the outcome of games. In fact, the federal complaint gave no indication that players threw any games as part of the scheme.
According to the affidavit, the FBI recorded phone conversations between Manni and McDougle, beginning in November 2005. During one call in December 2005, McDougle said he would talk to other players and see if they could make money on a game between Toledo and Texas-El Paso, the complaint said. In a call later that month, McDougle said another player would be helping and asked Manni to make a $2,000 bet for him on the game, the complaint said.
The Rockets went on to beat UTEP 45-13 in the GMAC Bowl, covering the spread with ease as three point favorites. McDougle was injured much of the 2005 season and did not have any carries in the bowl game.
Also in December 2005, McDougle and unnamed UT football players were observed by FBI agents meeting with Gary at a Detroit restaurant and, later that evening, in the VIP area of the city's Greektown Casino. Other than McDougle, no other Toledo athletes were named in the affidavit or charged in the complaint. Nor did FBI investigators identify any football or basketball games they believe were altered by athletes connected to McDougle and Gary.
So far, according to the indictments, all we know is that at least one Toledo player wanted to bet ON his team to win and cover in their bowl game, very different from a typical point shaving scandal in which players are NOT supposed to cover the pointspread. And we know that Manni spent some time with McDougle and other Rockets players in a legal, licensed casino in Detroit.
After the indictments were handed down, the importance of the legal, regulated sportsbooks in Nevada came to light. Kenny White is the chief operating officer and head oddsmaker at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, instrumental in formulating the pointspread used at every casino in the state. White said that beginning in the 2004 season he and his associates noticed that there was heavy betting on certain Toledo football games and those of another Mid-American Conference team he declined to name.
"But then it stopped and it was just Toledo," he said. The unusual betting pattern continued into the 2005 season, according to White. As his suspicions grew, he watched tape of all of Toledo's football games in 2004 and 2005. "We really couldn't pinpoint a single player or coach or official," he said. "But we knew something was happening there."
White filed verbal reports with the Nevada Gaming Commission and the NCAA last summer. He declined to reveal the games he believes were affected by the alleged scheme, but he believes the bettors profited largely. "If they were giving a kid $10,000 to sit a game out, they probably were betting at least $100,000," he said. "I bet you if we tracked the roots, it wasn't one guy. Probably 100 people were in on this knowing what the right side was going to be in those games."
White said the bettors would not have wagered all their money in one place. "They have to spread them out. I'm sure they used offshore industries and they use Nevada because they know they're going to get paid," he said.
"Guys are trying to get to these players, and they tell them, 'Hey, you don't have to lose the game. You just don't have to cover the spread.' That seems to be the one common theme. And they talk [the players] into doing these crazy things," White said. "It's pretty big any time a point-shaving scheme happens. We're just glad the FBI found the information they needed and are headed in the right direction."
Las Vegas was aware of the betting irregularities nearly a year before the FBI had any idea that something was awry. It's not yet clear whether White's tipping off the Nevada Gaming authorities had any influence on the federal investigation, but the bottom line is that Vegas knew about the problem and took steps to correct it well before the feds got involved.
The previous major betting scandal in collegiate sports was also uncovered right here in Las Vegas. Legendary Mirage bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro noticed highly unusual betting patterns involving Arizona State basketball games back in the mid 90's. He stopped taking action on or against the Sun Devils and alerted authorities, which directly resulted in the arrests and convictions of the ringleaders.
Fixing games is not a habitual problem in college sports. Some athletes are vulnerable to the 'good life' trappings offered by game fixers because they are living at or below the poverty line on campus while the university makes millions off their efforts. The Vegas casinos know that game fixing benefits no one except the fixers themselves, and have proven their medal in reporting these allegations to the proper authorities. Without these fully legal checks in place, betting scandals could continue unabated. In both the Toledo and the Arizona State schemes, there's absolutely no question that the Las Vegas sportsbooks have been a part of the solution, not the problem.