Easier gambling has sports worried about fighting the fix
By DAVID PORTER and REGINA GARCIA-CANO
Tuesday, September 18
OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — It’s early in a college basketball game and Team A, playing methodically and using up most of the 30-second shot clock, falls behind 10-6. Scattered around the bleachers, several fans staring at their smartphones celebrate silently: they have bet on Team B to be the first to reach 10 points and even promised two Team A starters a cut of the winnings.
With dozens of states rushing to capitalize on the U.S. Supreme Court lifting a federal ban on sports gambling, will fixed scenarios like the one above become more common?
The four major pro sports leagues and the NCAA think so, and have argued for years that expanding legal betting will lead to more game-fixing. The pro leagues have sought, unsuccessfully so far, a cut of state gambling revenues to increase monitoring.
Meanwhile, architects of New Jersey’s successful legal challenge to the sports gambling ban say those fears are overstated and that bringing sports betting out of the shadows will make it easier to detect illegal activity. They point to the Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal in the 1990s, which was uncovered after legal bookmakers in Las Vegas noticed unusually large sums being wagered on Sun Devils games.
Yet the prospect of easy, legal access to sports gambling for athletes and others has many in sports concerned.
“They’re going to create a bigger pool for more kids and for more money to get involved,” said Jamall Anderson, a running back on the 1996 Boston College football team whose players were found to have bet against their own team. “It’s really going to create a big mess, I think.”
TARGETING COLLEGE ATHLETES
College athletes are generally considered easier to convince than pros to influence games. Two reasons: they are younger and aren’t paid directly to play.
They also aren’t strangers to wagering.
A 2016 NCAA survey of more than 22,000 college athletes found nearly one-fourth of male athletes had violated NCAA rules by gambling on sports within the previous year. When the survey was done, sports betting was available only in Nevada or illegally through offshore operators.
It was another number that surprised the authors: 13 percent of the male athletes who had gambled on sports had wagered on in-game bets, things like whether the next football play will be a run or a pass or of a basketball player will hit the next free throw.
“We continue to have concerns that wagering enhancements such as live in-game betting could present increased opportunities to profit from ‘spot fixing’ a contest as has been uncovered recently in a number of international sports leagues,” the study concluded.
NCAA rules prohibit athletes, coaches and other athletic department employees from gambling on sports.
Individual schools make sure athletes know the rules against gambling, sometimes bringing in law enforcement officials or former players to get the message across.
Will it be enough as laws change?
Legal sports gambling was the No. 1 topic for every conference meeting this spring, said Bob Vecchione, head of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics.
“Do you remember back when you were 18 to 20 years of age?” said Vecchione, the Minnesota athletic director. “When people told you something, how much did it sink in? That’s what causes some sleepless nights.”
NCAA officials have said they may consider adjusting rules to account for legal gambling but haven’t specified how.
Anderson recounted his experiences in the Boston College football scandal in a 2016 book, “The Best Bet.” In a recent interview, he described a culture in which gambling was part of the daily routine.
“You went to practice and you got your spreadsheet in the locker room,” he said. “It was nothing to sit there on the sidelines and say, ‘Who you got this week?’ That’s what you do. You’re playing football, watching ESPN, seeing other teams and you’re totally engaged. It was too easy.”
While no players were alleged to have compromised their performances in games, Anderson — who was injured and did not play during the 1996 season — and other players incurred debts betting on other sports and tried to recoup their losses. Some bet against BC against Syracuse and star quarterback Donovan McNabb. Thirteen players were suspended.
Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs had a front-row seat to New Jersey’s successful challenge to the 1992 federal sports betting ban. Now, New Jersey sports books are prohibited from taking wagers on college games played in the state or involving schools from the state.
With inside information being so key to betting markets, any tidbit — say, a student telling friends that his roommate, the star quarterback, just had a fight with his girlfriend — can take on greater significance.
That highlights the need for more education, Hobbs said.
“We’ll educate on a variety of scenarios and hypotheticals, and say, ‘Hey look, this may have sounded like an innocent question in the past, but now you have to be careful with that information,’” Hobbs said.
Proponents of legal sports gambling often point to Nevada as a model for effective monitoring. Sports betting has been legal in Las Vegas in some form since the 1930s.
If regulators there are notified of suspicious betting activity, agents from the Nevada Gaming Control Board can open an investigation or work with federal and local authorities if it involves multiple jurisdictions.
Karl Bennison, the board’s chief of enforcement, said board agents also meet and work with professional leagues, teams, the NCAA, conferences, universities and sports associations, including the International Olympic Committee, to discuss and educate athletes, coaches and others on integrity matters and illegal activity.
Reports from oddsmakers in Las Vegas have played key roles in the uncovering of illegal sports betting schemes, including the case involving two Arizona State basketball players fixing four games during the 1993-94 season.
Stevin “Hedake” Smith and Isaac Burton Jr. admitted to shaving points — purposely holding the score down with mistakes or missed shots — for $20,000 per game. They were partly trying to erase a reported $10,000 gambling debt to a fellow student who also booked bets.
Las Vegas bookmakers reported suspicious betting activity when gamblers placed about $900,000 in bets against Arizona State on a meaningless contest against Washington. The heavy betting caused sports books to change Arizona State from a 10 ½-point favorite to a 3-point favorite.
“You might write $30,000 or $40,000 total on both sides of that game under normal conditions,” Jimmy Vaccaro, then-sports book director at Mirage Resorts, told The Associated Press. “We wrote $560,000 on that game. The people thought the fix was in and ended up blowing their money.”
Scandals like that are rare, but sports book operators say other situations could raise red flags, such as a bettor refusing to show an ID when trying to place a bet, or attempting to place large bets without a prior history with a particular casino.
Jay Kornegay, sports book director at the Westgate Las Vegas, said that in those instances, the books would look at what happened in that game, including suspicious plays and performances. If the oddsmakers think something is going on, they can refer it to regulators.
OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES
Legal sports betting has been a part of the landscape abroad for years, and so have gambling-related scandals.
Authorities have busted soccer match-fixing rings in Greece, Spain and eastern Europe in recent years. FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, recently banned a Ghanaian referee for life for his questionable calls during a World Cup qualifying game in 2016; in April, four South African match officials reported being offered $30,000 to fix an international club game in Nigeria.
The sport most susceptible to match-fixing or manipulation, however, may be tennis. A report published in April by an independent panel found “betting-related corruption and other breaches of integrity have taken firm root” in the sport, particularly in the lower and middle levels of the men’s game.
The report cited the sheer number of matches worldwide — 115,000, it estimated — many featuring little-known players and lax monitoring. It also pointed to a decision several years ago by pro tours to sell live scoring data, which created more opportunities for legal sports books to offer in-game wagering.
In the four months since the report was issued, several men’s players have been suspended, two for life, and authorities in Belgium detained more than a dozen people on suspicion of fixing tennis matches.
The suspensions grew out of investigations by the Tennis Integrity Unit, formed by the sport’s governing bodies in 2009.
Joe Asher, chief executive of London-based bookmaker William Hill, said many scandals would stay in the shadows if bets are placed illegally.
“The illegal bookie isn’t picking up the phone and calling the FBI, he’s just going to try to get on the same side of the bet,” Asher said. “So that’s the difference between the black market and the legal market that exists today.”
Garcia-Cano reported from Las Vegas.
More AP sports: http://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and http://twitter.com/AP_Sports
In 1968, computers got personal: How the ‘mother of all demos’ changed the world
Professor of History, University of Washington
Margaret O’Mara does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
On a crisp California afternoon in early December 1968, a square-jawed, mild-mannered Stanford researcher named Douglas Engelbart took the stage at San Francisco’s Civic Auditorium and proceeded to blow everyone’s mind about what computers could do. Sitting down at a keyboard, this computer-age Clark Kent calmly showed a rapt audience of computer engineers how the devices they built could be utterly different kinds of machines – ones that were “alive for you all day,” as he put it, immediately responsive to your input, and which didn’t require users to know programming languages in order to operate.
Engelbart typed simple commands. He edited a grocery list. As he worked, he skipped the computer cursor across the screen using a strange wooden box that fit snugly under his palm. With small wheels underneath and a cord dangling from its rear, Engelbart dubbed it a “mouse.”
The 90-minute presentation went down in Silicon Valley history as the “mother of all demos,” for it previewed a world of personal and online computing utterly different from 1968’s status quo. It wasn’t just the technology that was revelatory; it was the notion that a computer could be something a non-specialist individual user could control from their own desk.
Shrinking the massive machines
In the America of 1968, computers weren’t at all personal. They were refrigerator-sized behemoths that hummed and blinked, calculating everything from consumer habits to missile trajectories, cloistered deep within corporate offices, government agencies and university labs. Their secrets were accessible only via punch card and teletype terminals.
The Vietnam-era counterculture already had made mainframe computers into ominous symbols of a soul-crushing Establishment. Four years before, the student protesters of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement had pinned signs to their chests that bore a riff on the prim warning that appeared on every IBM punch card: “I am a UC student. Please don’t bend, fold, spindle or mutilate me.”
Earlier in 1968, Stanley Kubrick’s trippy “2001: A Space Odyssey” mined moviegoers’ anxieties about computers run amok with the tale of a malevolent mainframe that seized control of a spaceship from its human astronauts.
Voices rang out on Capitol Hill about the uses and abuses of electronic data-gathering, too. Missouri Senator Ed Long regularly delivered floor speeches he called “Big Brother updates.” North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin declared that mainframe power posed a threat to the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. “The computer,” Ervin warned darkly, “never forgets.” As the Johnson administration unveiled plans to centralize government data in a single, centralized national database, New Jersey Congressman Cornelius Gallagher declared that it was just another grim step toward scientific thinking taking over modern life, “leaving as an end result a stack of computer cards where once were human beings.”
The zeitgeist of 1968 helps explain why Engelbart’s demo so quickly became a touchstone and inspiration for a new, enduring definition of technological empowerment. Here was a computer that didn’t override human intelligence or stomp out individuality, but instead could, as Engelbart put it, “augment human intellect.”
While Engelbart’s vision of how these tools might be used was rather conventionally corporate – a computer on every office desk and a mouse in every worker’s palm – his overarching notion of an individualized computer environment hit exactly the right note for the anti-Establishment technologists coming of age in 1968, who wanted to make technology personal and information free.
Over the next decade, technologists from this new generation would turn what Engelbart called his “wild dream” into a mass-market reality – and profoundly transform Americans’ relationship to computer technology.
In the decade after the demo, the crisis of Watergate and revelations of CIA and FBI snooping further seeded distrust in America’s political leadership and in the ability of large government bureaucracies to be responsible stewards of personal information. Economic uncertainty and an antiwar mood slashed public spending on high-tech research and development – the same money that once had paid for so many of those mainframe computers and for training engineers to program them.
Enabled by the miniaturizing technology of the microprocessor, the size and price of computers plummeted, turning them into affordable and soon indispensable tools for work and play. By the 1980s and 1990s, instead of being seen as machines made and controlled by government, computers had become ultimate expressions of free-market capitalism, hailed by business and political leaders alike as examples of what was possible when government got out of the way and let innovation bloom.
There lies the great irony in this pivotal turn in American high-tech history. For even though “the mother of all demos” provided inspiration for a personal, entrepreneurial, government-is-dangerous-and-small-is-beautiful computing era, Doug Engelbart’s audacious vision would never have made it to keyboard and mouse without government research funding in the first place.
Engelbart was keenly aware of this, flashing credits up on the screen at the presentation’s start listing those who funded his research team: the Defense Department’s Advanced Projects Research Agency, later known as DARPA; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the U.S. Air Force. Only the public sector had the deep pockets, the patience and the tolerance for blue-sky ideas without any immediate commercial application.
Although government funding played a less visible role in the high-tech story after 1968, it continued to function as critical seed capital for next-generation ideas. Marc Andreessen and his fellow graduate students developed their groundbreaking web browser in a government-funded university laboratory. DARPA and NASA money helped fund the graduate research project that Sergey Brin and Larry Page would later commercialize as Google. Driverless car technology got a jump-start after a government-sponsored competition; so has nanotechnology, green tech and more. Government hasn’t gotten out of Silicon Valley’s way; it remained there all along, quietly funding the next generation of boundary-pushing technology.
Today, public debate rages once again on Capitol Hill about computer-aided invasions of privacy. Hollywood spins apocalyptic tales of technology run amok. Americans spend days staring into screens, tracked by the smartphones in our pockets, hooked on social media. Technology companies are among the biggest and richest in the world. It’s a long way from Engelbart’s humble grocery list.
But perhaps the current moment of high-tech angst can once again gain inspiration from the mother of all demos. Later in life, Engelbart described his life’s work as a quest to “help humanity cope better with complexity and urgency.” His solution was a computer that was remarkably different from the others of that era, one that was humane and personal, that augmented human capability rather than boxing it in. And he was able to bring this vision to life because government agencies funded his work.
Now it’s time for another mind-blowing demo of the possible future, one that moves beyond the current adversarial moment between big government and Big Tech. It could inspire people to enlist public and private resources and minds in crafting the next audacious vision for our digital future.