The first part of the interview with the Larceny Games author Brian Tuohy can be found here.
Are you a sports gambler?
No, I’m not a sports gambler. I’ve been surrounded by gambling my entire life and have been to Vegas several times, occasionally betting on games while there, but I’ve never dealt with a bookie directly. Now, I avoid betting altogether because I want gamblers and bookmakers to open up to me, and they’re more apt to do so if they realize that I’m not pumping them for inside information. I’m seeking their knowledge for purely intellectual reasons.
The powers to be decree Fantasy Sports as a valid and legal betting activity, and yet online poker is not? Also the leagues support Fantasy Sports betting and not Sports Betting in general?
The line between legal and illegal gambling is all in the rake, meaning it’s a definition difference. If someone is taking a cut of the pot—it’s illegal. If not, it’s perfectly fine. In most fantasy sports leagues I’m aware of, all of the money put in is doled back out to the winners. But to anyone unaware of the legal aspect, it’s all gambling. I don’t understand why one is considered okay while the other is a crime. If people want to risk their money as a form of entertainment—be it on slot machines, at casinos, in poker games, or in fantasy sports—my opinion is to let them do so. And the leagues are being extremely hypocritical by promoting fantasy sports on one hand while fighting to keep sports gambling illegal with the other.
Do you believe cheating will ever crawl into the Fantasy Sports market?
Money breeds corruption. And if enough money is on the line, people will find a way to subvert the system. I’ve seen in the fantasy leagues I’ve been a part of that some owners will collude and make trades to create an all-star type of roster, with the idea being that the owners involved will split any winnings. And this is in a league comprised of friends! If that sort of behavior can occur between friends, I can’t imagine what may be possible among strangers when even more money is at stake.
Who are the biggest sports bettors in the world and what amounts are exchanging hands per annum?
Good question. I don’t know the names, but I think people would be surprised at who is gambling on these games and the amount at stake. What you hear about in Vegas is nothing. There are people out there betting millions on individual games. The last good estimate comes from 1999 and states that anywhere from $80 to $380 billion is wagered illegally on sports each year in the US. The numbers can’t be that high without some people laying heavy number on these games.
What is the easiest way to fix a game, and what sport would it be?
As I said before, I think many fixes are crimes of opportunity. Someone—be it a gambler, a mobster, or even an acquaintance of an athlete—with access to a player who has an issue (money, drug, or gambling problems for instance) may be able to exploit that weakness to their advantage and get them to fix a game. But really the easiest way to fix a game is for the player or referee to just decide to do it themselves, without any sort of bribery or blackmail involved. That’s the danger. That some greedy or needy athlete may just shave points on their own accord which would make sniffing out the crime much more difficult.
Even more frightening, and a much easier fix, is what’s known as spot fixing. This has already been seen in soccer, tennis, and cricket. With the introduction of in-game betting—which has recently come to Las Vegas—gamblers can now bet on things like which player will be given the first yellow card in soccer, or who will win the second game of the second set in a tennis match. A gambler and an athlete working together can ensure something small like this goes their way, and it will have zero influence on the final outcome of the match in question. It’s much, much more difficult to discover, yet still quite lucrative.
As for which sports, obviously horse racing is the easiest to fix. That’s followed by the one-on-one sports like boxing and tennis. After which comes all the team sports, with basketball and football at the top of the list due to the ability to shave points rather than the need to lose a game outright as in baseball.
Are there sports that don’t often dominate the back pages of the newspaper that you have often believed would be ripe for match fixing?
I never thought tennis would be the hotbed of corruption that it is. But worldwide, it is the second most gambled upon sport (behind soccer – I don’t consider horse racing a sport). Due to the nature of the tennis tournaments, fixing a match can be more profitable to a low ranked player than actually winning the event. Tennis recognizes this problem and is working on a solution, but it’s not solved. And having to reach just one player to bend a match a gambler’s way makes the sport easy pickings.
During your review on boxing I was shocked to read some of the biggest names in the history of the game embroiled in match fixing. Do you still believe it is still fixed, and do you have any recent examples?
I certainly believe boxing is still corrupt. Its history would prove it would not go away because what made boxing what it is continues to make boxing today. Fixing matches is just a part of that. Many would point to the recent Bradley-Pacquiao fight as being fixed. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I can’t say for certain, but I wasn’t alone in thinking the result was highly suspect. The recent decision in the Mayweather-Canelo fight appeared suspect as well with one judge ruling it a draw. I’ve heard of other potentially fixed fights as well, but proving a fight was fixed is incredibly difficult. But I think fight fans have seen plenty of questionable decisions and strange knockouts and known something was not right.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship can become as rigged as boxing…your view please?
The history of boxing, especially the post World War II era, really mirrors the rise of the UFC in many ways. Unfortunately, that history of boxing is rife with corruption as it was truly controlled by one man, a mobster named Frankie Carbo, for two decades, and then fell under the control of the likes of Don King and Bob Arum. I’m not calling Dana White a mobster, but to me, his control over the UFC is troubling, as is the “Fight of the Night” bonuses he hands out. These are just begging fighters to collude and arrange matches because in some cases, the bonus money is worth more than the fight itself. Have UFC fights been fixed? My opinion is yes. Can I say which ones for certain? No. But anyone can visit YouTube and watch plenty of footage of questionable knockouts and tap-outs and decide for themselves.
What would be your macro view on how match fixing can be reduced?
The first, best step is to legalize sports gambling. If everything is above the board and bet legally, then it can be monitored by the sports books and each state’s gaming board. This sort of oversight currently does not exist outside the likes of Nevada, which really accounts for about one percent of all the sports betting in the US.
In Europe where sports’ gambling is legal, sports books there have integrity divisions which monitor the wagering in real time and can watch the odds move and the money coming in on each game. When something unusual occurs, they flag it and investigate. If warranted, they turn this information over to the proper authorities such as the sports leagues or law enforcement and more serious investigations are initiated as they can follow the money. This had led to the revelation that many matches have indeed been fixed with hundreds of players, coaches, referees, and even team owners being arrested and convicted for match fixing. It’s not a perfect system, and fixes can still slip through the cracks, but it’s more than what’s occurring in the US.
Brian Tuohy is considered one of America’s leading experts on game fixing in sports. He is the author of two books on the subject—The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and NASCAR, and the recently published Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing, and the FBI. He runs the website thefixisin.net and contributes content to SportsOnEarth.com.