July 23, 2007

Gambling and Athletics

I'm going to give full disclosure on this article. To help defray the costs of running this website, I have accepted sponsorship from an online sports betting house called BetUS.com.

It was not an easy decision. Sports and gambling is a taboo subject. Complicating matters is the fact that my girlfriend's mother is the program manager of an addiction services center, including offering help on gambling. The dangers of gambling are real, even though to sports fans it has become perceived as less jeopardous.

While I was away on vacation the relationship between athletics and gambling hit the spotlight thanks largely to NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy has been accused of betting on basketball games, including games which he was officiating. Reports also suggest Donaghy has ties with organized crime, throwing the credibility of the NBA and all sports into question.

Not so long ago hockey's relationship with gambling was back in the headlines, as Rick Tocchet plead guilty to charges of third-degree conspiracy and third-degree promoting gambling in New Jersey. The chapter will hopefully come to a conclusion on August 17th, 2007 when Tocchet's sentencing hearing is scheduled.

Tocchet was expected to receive probation for his cooperation, and probably still will. Then we will see if and when his indefinite "leave" from the National Hockey League will be lifted.

Tocchet didn't do himself or the NHL any favors when he recently took part in the very popular and completely legal World Series of Poker, as did Wayne Gretzky's wife Janet Jones and current NHLer Maxime Talbot. Tocchet went AWOL on day two of the tournament, perhaps by NHL orders or by a delayed jolt of common sense. Tocchet's poor decision to take part in such a high-profile gambling event won’t help him when he stands before a New Jersey judge or NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

Gambling's relationship with sports has almost always existed, and everyone involved in sports, even us fans, walks a fine line with the taboo subject of speculative wagering.

Obviously sports teams don't want to be associated with gambling, particularly of the illegal and organized crime variety. When someone like Donaghy or Pete Rose or the many people involved in separate match-fixing in Italian soccer scandals in 2000 and 2006 is found to have bet on games where they had the opportunity to influence the outcome, the credibility of the league is questioned. For more listings of sports betting scandals, check out this article from Sports Business News.

Here's a little rundown on hockey's history with gambling. Hockey had two scandals back in the 1940s.

On January 30, 1946 Pratt was suspended by the NHL. Pratt was the centerpiece of an infamous gambling scandal. Babe Pratt was suspended for betting on NHL games involving games that didn't involve his Leafs. Initially the banishment was forever, but Pratt later admitted his ways and promised not to do them again. After 16 days, Pratt was reinstated. The NHL would change its constitution shortly afterwards to eliminate any appeal process for players found guilty of gambling.

Two years later, Boston Bruins teammates Billy "the Kid" Taylor and Don Gallinger were banished for life for associating with James Tamer, "a criminal and gambler of Detroit," and for betting on games which they were participating in. The NHL steadfastly cleared both players of ever trying to fix a NHL game, however.

Despite an initial claim of innocence, the promising Gallinger admitted his guilt some 19 months later. Investigations found Gallinger betting as much as $1000 on games involving the Bruins. Strangely enough, his $1000 bet was on a game against Chicago where he expected the Blackhawks to win. Boston would win that game, with Gallinger scoring the very important tying goal. Gallinger was also found to be supplying undesirables with Bruins injury information.

Taylor, who had been traded to the New York Rangers 2 games prior to the news break, was immediately expelled for life as it was found he had a $500 bet with Tamer for the same game. Taylor was a spectacular player most notably with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1940s. His reputation as a passing-fancy draws comparisons to Wayne Gretzky.

Both Gallinger and Taylor had their lifetime bans lifted in 1970.

Earlier than that even, the NHL allowed Manhattan's prohibition bootlegger king, Billy Dwyer, in as the owner of the Hamilton Tigers. The native of Hell's Kitchen, NY immediately moved the team to New York city and renamed them the Americans. He also secretly purchased the NHL's Pittsburgh Pirates, using former boxer Benny Leonard as the operations front man.

Dwyer's purchases may have been as much about money laundering and gambling as any interest he had in hockey. Dwyer took an active role in owning the team, often trying to rig NHL games. For example, in New York he put a goal judge in that would call a goal against an opponent merely if the puck touched the goal line. It happened one night in 1927-28 when Ottawa was at Madison Square Garden. However, the goal judge seemed more interested in taunting Ottawa goalkeeper Alex Connell. Connell finally butt-ended the goal judge in the nose, which caused Dwyer's buddies to seek Connell's death that night. It took a police detail to get Connell out of the Gardens that night and at the train station, someone inquired if a gentleman was Alex Connell. Connell lied and said he was not, knowing he was in danger.

While sports organizations try to distance themselves from the dreaded gambling association, they love the residual benefits of legal gambling and friendly wagers on their product. It creates a great following, as fans tune in regularly to see what happened each night. It is great for the league, and great for the journalism/broadcasting industry.

Over the years the gambling subject has, wrongly, become less taboo. Leagues love it and sportscasters love it just as much. The interest created if you have a little something riding on a game is great for everyone, except maybe the loser of the bet.

It has become so much more accepted that every hockey fan I know who has ever criticized gambling has admitted to participating in a hockey pool or one of those province/state sponsored lotto games. It is a form of gambling, and as anyone who has played these or spent even just a few minutes at a slot machine knows it is quite addictive.

In this new world where poker is a high profile sport on television and on the internet, and sports betting websites like BetUS.com, it is easier than ever to gamble. The only lecture I will leave you all with is, as they say here in British Columbia, know your limit, play within it.

1 comment:

Doogie said...

I remember reading in Hockey: A People's History that in the beginning, the teams, fans, and even officials used to put friendly bets on the outcome of the game. Funny how things change sometimes.

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