Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI – The Latest Book from Brian Tuohy
Today, author Brian Tuohy contributes a guest column about his research for the new book, Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI (2013). It will be released on September 3, 2013 but is available for pre-order now.
Gambling with Your Life is a movie you’ll never see. Produced by the NBA in association with the other major leagues and the FBI, the 30-minute video hosted by Greg Gumbel was shown to athletes as part of the Bureau’s Sports Bribery Presentation Program. Every year FBI Agents visit professional and collegiate sports teams in the pre-season, discussing the dangers of drugs and gambling and how it could lead to game fixing and/or point shaving. Featuring interviews with gangsters Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame) and Michael Franzese among others, Gambling with Your Life was used to emphasize specific points—most importantly, that players and games have been corrupted in the past.
I own a copy of Gambling with Your Life. How? I obtained it via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I’d tell you how to get your own copy, but the FBI wasn’t supposed to release it to me in the first place. So they won’t give it to you. And I can’t post it on YouTube or anywhere else because I was warned not to as lawsuits would likely follow.
But I have it. Along with 400+ other FBI investigative files related to Sports Bribery.
Passed by Congress and signed into law in 1964 by President Johnson, the Sports Bribery Act for the first time made it a federal crime for someone to bribe a player, coach, or referee to alter the outcome of a sporting event. It was designed as a device to battle organized crime and help protect the “purity” of sports. Amazingly, no one has ever been arrested, much less convicted, of violating the Sports Bribery Act in relation to an NFL, NBA, or MLB game.
Of course, this ties into each leagues’ official history. Major League Baseball states no game has been fixed since the legendary Black Sox scandal in the 1919 World Series. The NBA hasn’t had anyone shave points since Jack Molinas was expelled from the league in 1954. And the NFL proclaims that not one of its games have fallen under outside influence—ever.
Do you believe that?
While researching my first book, The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR, I learned that the FBI was tasked with investigating these Sports Bribery violations. But I had no idea how to directly access this information via FOIA.
My first attempts were rather crude. FOIA is nothing like conducting a Google search. You can’t simply ask the FBI for all of its files related to the NFL and expect results (I know because, sadly, I tried that). I had to learn to work the system. Luckily for me, I stumbled across a guy who was willing to help. I’d tell you who this is, but he prefers to remain anonymous (when we first talked—and I swear I’m not making this up—he told me he worked for a “secret government agency.” I no longer doubt his claim.). But this insider gave me the keys to unlocking the FBI’s kingdom by revealing the agency’s three digit file designation for sports bribery investigations—172. Once I could request the files I wanted by “name” using the 172 designation code, I could get exactly what it was I was after—every file the FBI possessed in relation to game fixing…besides the ones that were “missing” and/or “destroyed.”
Surprisingly, even though all of the files I received over the course of three years are in fact public record, no one had ever previously accessed any of this information.
Reading and comprehending these files, however, was something else altogether. You have to contend with redactions; that is, the parts of each file which the FBI by law must remove. They used to black out this information. But in this modern age of computerization, they delete the restricted material, leaving white boxes spread throughout each file. This makes reading these a daunting task. In fact, several files I received contained completely redacted (blank) pages, while others were so chock full of redactions, they were rendered indecipherable.
Despite some investigations dating back over 50 years, the names of agents, sources, informants, and subjects are still redacted. Only if the person named in the file was deceased would it be revealed to the reader (with the odd exception of Muhammad Ali – his name, which appeared in three or four files I obtained, was always visible). So, in most cases, I had to piece files together to figure out what was being discussed.
To my benefit, certain revealing information relating to a subject wouldn’t be redacted, making identification quite easy. For example, a file dated from October 1968 might read “…quarterback [redacted] Kansas City….” Well, a quick check of who the Chiefs quarterbacks were in 1968 would instantly narrow down who the suspected player would be.
Some files provided even more information with which to ID a subject. The FBI would occasionally list the final score from a game, or even go so far as to post a player’s stat line (they would often write the listed odds or point spreads for questionable games in the files as well). These proved remarkably accurate. By visiting the many stat-related websites out there which are kind enough to maintain box scores from 50 year old football, basketball, and baseball games, I was able to positively identify many of the players the FBI was targeting. I don’t know if the FBI realized this, but in its failure to redact this vital information, positive identification could be made in minutes.
This is not to say all of the players, coaches, and referees named in the files and by extension in Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI are guilty of fixing games (it doesn’t mean they were innocent, either). They were merely subjects of investigations. But the frightening aspect of this is that much of what’s written about in my book covers just a 20-year span between 1964 and the mid-1980s. It may be the tip of a very dirty iceberg. What wasn’t reported to the FBI? What did some agent feel wasn’t worth pursuing? What’s happened since the ‘80s?
The Bureau set up a nationwide network of informants and sources within the sports gambling underworld when the Sports Bribery Act passed in 1964, but by the time Reagan tasked the FBI with fighting the “War on Drugs” in the early 1980s, that network had collapsed. Coupled with the inability to obtain arrests or convictions in this realm, the FBI has in many ways abandoned investigations of game fixing. The file designation was canceled. I haven’t been able to pinpoint any recent yet unknown investigations via FOIA—perhaps because none exist within FBI files. Today, the FBI only investigates such potential violations if something falls into their laps, as was the case with the recent scandals surrounding Tim Donaghy, the University of Toledo, and the University of San Diego. These all began because of information obtained within other, non-related investigations.
So what’s been missed? Hard to say. But can the answer truly be “nothing?” Knowing that soccer, tennis, and cricket have all recently seen numerous matches influenced by gamblers around the world, and that anywhere from $80 to $380 billion is wagered illegally on sports in the US each year (that low estimate—the $80 billion—is more than three times what the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL made in combined revenue in 2012), it’s no stretch of the imagination to think you’ve watched a fixed game and not known it.
The only solution is to legalize sports gambling in the US. Take it out of organized crime’s hands, make it transparent, and then we can all follow the money on these games. Suspicious odds movements and money bet would be above the board and publicly known as it is in Europe. Despite what the majors leagues claim, this would actually bring more integrity to our sports, and hopefully make game fixing a relic of history.