Yet another betting scandal has come to the forefront,
this time it involves NBA referee Tim Donaghy. So far, the allegations have not
pinpointed any specific games under suspicion.
What has been disclosed is that the FBI is investigating
games Donaghy officiated over the last two years to see if he intentionally
made calls to influence the betting outcome.
Though the media has used the term “pointspread,” it is
unclear whether they are aware of the gambling distinction meaning Donaghy’s
bets were against the spread as opposed to totals.
I’ve watched as some of my colleagues have tried in vain
to find a statistical smoking gun. Nobody has and in truth, in lieu of specific
information such as how many games were involved and whether such bets were on pointspread,
moneyline or over/under, etc. there is not likely to be damning evidence found
in any database.
Instead, I will try a different approach of getting into
the mind of a potential game fixer. If hypothetically I wanted to influence the
betting outcome of an NBA game with the aid of an NBA ref, how would I do it
without leaving telltale signs?
First and foremost, as a handicapper I am always looking
for an edge, never naively banking on a sure thing. In other words, I never have, nor ever will
bet the mortgage on any one game, but instead will look to hit 57 percent or
higher over the long run.
Hence, with the knowledge that one referee in a three man
crew could not with 100 percent certainty fix any one game without being
apparent, my theoretical collusion with a referee would involve achieving the
desired gambling result at least 60 percent of the time over a series of games.
Because the accusations do involve games over the previous
two years, this appears to be a likely scenario.
Also I would focus on over/unders. This way a referee need
not favor any one team. Not only would
this make it much easier to conceal a bias, but if Donaghy were looking for
ethical clearance, he can easily convince himself that his unfairness is not
favoring either team, instead only affecting the flow of the game.
In such circumstances, a referee need only be much more
aggressive in calling fouls, getting both teams in the penalty early and often.
Furthermore, all borderline calls would come at the defensive end. What’s a charge?
And finally a referee could see to it the defensive
specialists on each team would get into foul trouble early. Let’s say Detroit
is playing Chicago. I would order my co-conspirator ref to make
sure Ben Wallace gets a quick whistle. But I’m not favoring Detroit,
because their defensive guru Tayshaun Prince will also
get whistled early and often.
Knowing that the top defensive players on each team will
be limited in minutes and that each team will likely make more than normally
expected trips to the free throw line more than qualifies as an “edge” to the
Of course once those teams get in the penalty nice and
early, as part of the plan, the referee would be instructed that anytime a good
free throw shooter is as much as breathed on, he’s going to the line. Simply
put, there need not be preferential treatment towards any one team, just
towards both offenses or in other theoretic situations, each defense.
It’s no coincidence I chose the Bulls and Pistons as a
hypothetical illustration. Games with
low totals going over or high totals going under would be the type of bets that
would have the highest probability of influencing without being glaringly
Alas, according to the referee database at Covers.com, in
the 2006-07 season, games Donaghy officiated went over 10-of-12 times if the
posted total were 184.5 or less. Yet if
the total were 205 or more, it went under at an 11-7 rate.
Far from a smoking gun, but when all details come out,
it’s the educated opinion of this gambling veteran that the above imaginary
scenarios will prove to be very close to the truth. I’ll even bet on it.
Joe Duffy is former General Manager of the Freescoreboard
scorephone network and CEO of OffshoreInsiders.com,
the premier hub of world-class handicappers. Media inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org