Sportsbooks Protect Sports Betting

Since sports betting would exist even if there weren't legally sanctioned betting, the NCAA owes sportsbooks a debt of gratitude for helping to expose those liars, cheats and point-shaving thieves who would taint the sport of college basketball by throwing games or bribing players to throw games for financial reward.

Another reminder of the pivotal role played by sportsbooks was revealed when a federal indictment charging 10 people, including two players, with conspiracy to fix college basketball games over the past two seasons, was unsealed, April 11. The indictment alleges that Brandon Johnson, a guard at the University of San Diego, "influenced the outcome of a USD basketball game for a monetary bribe."

The game is said to be from February of 2010 but authorities have indicated that there are other games in question and some operators of sportsbooks point to a contest a couple of months earlier, on Dec. 4, 2009, as one that has long been suspicious.

Sportsbooks, which operate as the first line of defense against cheating, opened USD as a 2 1/2-point favorite at UC Riverside, a team that rarely attracts much betting attention. Lines move all the time but when USD, which had beaten a top 25 team in Oklahoma and lost in overtime to NCAA Tournament-bound San Diego State, became a 1-point underdog because of heavy action on Riverside, operators of sportsbooks took notice.

USD, which had a 19-point lead with just over 13 minutes remaining, unexpectedly wound up losing to Riverside, 58-55, as Johnson shot 2-for-10 and drew a costly technical foul with a little over five minutes left in the contest.

But for the otherwise unexplainable pointspread moves, which, thanks to sportsbooks were readily available to federal authorities (who could never get that type of cooperation from illegal bookmakers), the game may have never been flagged and the indictment may never have been issued.

This is hardly the first time sportsbooks have helped federal law enforcement officials make a case against those who would cheat the game.

In March of 1994, two or three young men, possibly students, pulling bills out of a duffel bag, bet $250,000 in Las Vegas on a basketball game between Arizona State and Washington. The action was so heavy that the line, which opened with Arizona as an 11-point favorite, was bet down to just -3 1/2, as the money poured in on lowly Washington (5-20).

Operators of sportsbooks told their suspicions to the FBI. Besides eyewitness accounts of money being pulled from duffel bags, there was further evidence that these weren't just some rich kids spending their parent's money on a whim or an uninformed opinion. For starters, the bettors were unknown and it is highly unusual for sportsbooks to be unfamiliar with people who place large bets in Las Vegas.

Secondly, the betting pattern suggests that the gamblers were not wiseguys with a legitimate informational edge but amateurs with an unfair advantage. A large portion of the money ($70,000), was bet at the Stardust and Fremont hotels. Professionals seeking to spread money around town so as not to arouse suspicion would have known that the Stardust and Fremont were part of the Boyd Group network and that their sportsbooks were connected by computer so that any bet made at one property would be displayed at the other.

Armed with this information from sportsbooks, the Feds built a case against Benjamin Silman, a former ASU student turned campus bookmaker who later was jailed for masterminding the point shaving scandal. Silman pled guilty to charges that he bribed Sun Devils basketball players Isaac Burton and Steve Smith to make sure that Arizona State did not cover the spread in four games during the 1994 season. Silman, who was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison, testified that $568,000 was bet on his approval.

Sportsbooks and sports betting enthusiasts rarely find themselves on the same side of the counter but whether you're taking bets or making bets, each party wants a fair shot at success. To the extent that college basketball remains a fair contest, it is because sportsbooks protect their sports betting clientele—and in turn the sport itself—through never-ending vigilance.