What it's all about

Larceny Game (def.): slang term used in the late 1950's-early 1960's to describe a sporting event fixed by a gambler and/or mobster for gambling purposes.

 


Three hundred eighty billion dollars. That is the high-end estimate of how much money was wagered illegally on sporting events in the United States in 1999 according to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. Taking the same study’s low estimate, a mere $80 billion, into account, the figure still dwarfs the $2.76 billion wagered legally in the Nevada sports books in 2010. It is also nearly four times the amount of revenue generated by the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL combined ($24.5 billion) during the 2011-12 season. Yet fans are supposed to believe those unaccounted for billions—most of which end up in organized crime’s coffers—have no influence on professional sports and their outcomes.

On the federal level, one law specifically exists to prevent gamblers or Mafioso from fixing a game. That is the Sports Bribery Act of 1964. It reads, “Whoever carries into effect, attempts to carry into effect, or conspires with any other person to carry into effect any scheme in commerce to influence, in any way, by bribery any sporting contest, with knowledge that the purpose of such scheme is to influence by bribery that contest, shall be fined under this title, or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.” Amazingly, in the 48 years since the act’s passage, not one person has been convicted of breaking this law in regards to professional team sports. In fact, all four major leagues boast that their games have remained untainted for an even longer period of time. Major League Baseball claims it not seen a game fixed since the 1919 World Series. The National Hockey League’s last acknowledged fix came in 1948. The National Basketball Association has purportedly been free of gambling influences since Jack Molinas was banished in 1954. And the National Football League posits that it has never—ever—had an outcome of a game rigged. Is this really the truth?

To investigate the claims of these leagues—which possess an obvious incentive to purport themselves to be free of corruption—I did what apparently no one else in the United States has done before: I asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) what it knew in regards to Sports Bribery violations. Since the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) applies to the FBI but not to any of the major leagues, I utilized FOIA to discover what had been locked away in the FBI’s files. Of course, the FBI is not Google or Bing. You cannot simply request them to send every file they have in regards to the NFL (which I originally did…to no avail). One has to learn how the FOIA system works, where the files are located, and how to properly access them to receive the best information.

  The tipping point came upon discovering the FBI’s file designation for Sports Bribery investigations. These files literally gave me the key to everything the FBI had accumulated. It was a cornucopia of information.

There were
411 files specifically relating to Sports Bribery, dating from 1964 until 1990. I acquired them all, with the exception of perhaps a dozen which were either “missing” or had been destroyed according to the FBI. The subject matter covered nearly every popular gambling sport: boxing, horse racing, college football, college basketball, the NFL, MLB, the NBA as well as a few miscellaneous sports (yet not one file pertained to the NHL). These files not only contained valuable information concerning the Bureau’s investigation into fixed sporting events, but uncovered other file numbers with more information on sports gambling within the United States.

Unraveling the files the FBI sent was another task altogether.

Even though the earliest investigations dated back nearly 50 years, due to FBI regulations and FOIA laws, certain vital information remains redacted (blacked out). Because of the amount of redactions in certain files, some investigations were unintelligible. In others, the information not redacted could be pieced together to not only form a coherent storyline of the case, but reveal which athletes, coaches or referees were under suspicion. And in another subset of files, the subjects had died, making the redaction of their names no longer necessary. However, even in these instances, other information to protect sources or methods of gathering information by the FBI remained blocked. Interestingly, though, different files contained similar (if not exactly the same) information which may be redacted in one file, but not in the other. For example, the files of heavyweight champion boxer Joe Louis and NBA legend Wilt Chamberlain—both of whom are deceased—contained a duplicate FBI memo regarding Louis attending an NBA game which Chamberlain not only played in, but allegedly bet upon. In Louis’s file, this information was heavily redacted. In Chamberlain’s file, the entire memo was legible.

Having received and read all of these files which make for the basis of my book Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing, and the FBI, I am thoroughly convinced that the NFL, NBA, and MLB are lying to their fans in regards to the incidence of fixed games and players gambling upon their respective sport. The problem I had as an author, which was exactly the same problem the FBI possessed, is proving this beyond a reasonable doubt. Despite all of the information the FBI obtained, much of which it stated derived from “Top Echelon Informants,” the Bureau could never obtain a conviction under the Sports Bribery Act in a case involving professional team sports (though it was successful in a handful of horse racing cases as well as in certain well-known collegiate-based investigations). Why? Because concrete evidence does not exist in these cases. Without either catching a suspect on a wiretap discussing a fixing plot (which is what triggered the investigation of NBA referee Tim Donaghy) or getting a suspected fixer to confess (which is how the FBI learned of gangster Henry Hill fixing Boston College basketball games in 1979), the FBI had little else on which to base a case. This was one of the reasons why in 1990 the Bureau eliminated the Sports Bribery designation within its filing system, rolling such investigative cases into other organized crime or gambling work.

While recent scandals from around the globe have revealed the influence of gamblers and organized crime on athletes, coaches and referees in soccer, tennis, boxing and cricket (among others), none of this activity has supposedly ever tainted American soil. However, in interviewing former FBI Agents, bookmakers and professional sports gamblers, one fact stood out: none of them believe that American sports are truly free of such corrupting influence. Proving these beliefs may be difficult, but alternative avenues of research such as the FBI’s FOIA files are an excellent resource to tap. They may just hold the evidence needed to prove that the NFL, NBA and MLB have indeed been corrupted while offering ideas on how to prevent further corruption from spreading.

This is what you will discover within the pages of my book.