The US government is alleging that members of an organized crime family tried to fix a top-level college basketball game in 2018.
Wiretaps on the Colombo organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra, according to the charges brought in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. From the US attorney’s office for the EDNY:
The court-authorized wiretaps also captured the defendants’ scheme to fix an NCAA college basketball game. To further the scheme, defendant Benjamin Bifalco offered members of a college basketball team thousands of dollars to intentionally lose the game.
The indictment is here; press release from the DOJ is here.
More on the alleged fix
The grand jury indicted Benjamin Bifalco “did knowingly and intentionally attempt to carry into effect a scheme in commerce to influence by bribery a sporting contest, to wit: a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I men’s basketball game, with knowledge that the purpose of such scheme was to influence by bribery that contest.”
The effort took place in December of last year.
Another indictment, against Joseph Amato Jr., alleges a federal Wire Act violation for “assisting in the placing of bets and wagers on one or more sporting events.”
So, where were the basketball bets going to be made?
That’s not clear from the court documents so far, nor may it ever be known.
But it’s a relatively safe bet to guess that the mob was not trying to fix the game in order to bet at legal US sportsbooks in New Jersey, Nevada or elsewhere. The
Organized crime organizations generally book wagers themselves, and will often use offshore websites to help book those bets.
If you’re attempting to fix a game, trying to do so at a regulated sportsbook would be one of the worst choices you could make. If you’re attempting to bet enough money to affect an outcome, that will generate a red flag at any regulated book. If you try to place that bet either in person or online, the sportsbook will know who you are. It creates a paper or electronic trail that the mob has no desire to create.
In any event, while it’s not impossible that wagers could have been made at legal sportsbooks, they were likely not the target for the bets.
This is why trying to ban betting on college sports is nonsense
If you’re trying to make sports of all types safer, you should be advocating for legalization and regulation, not a ban.
The NCAA, however, advocates a ban on betting on college athletics at both the state and federal levels; that would not prevent situations like the one covered in the above indictments.
The fall of the federal sports betting ban in the spring of 2018 did not suddenly create a giant market for betting on college games that didn’t exist previously. Americans did and continue to bet on college sports via local and offshore bookmakers to the tune of tens of billions of dollars a year.
The NCAA and its member schools, however, like to argue that things changed dramatically with the advent of legal sports betting in the US last year. That’s despite the fact that incidents like the above have and will continue to happen whether betting on college games is widely legal or not.
The indictments above show why:
- US jurisdictions should be legalizing sports betting, to bring wagering into a regulated marketplace;
- it’s so disingenuous to suggest that legal betting has materially changed things for college athletics;
- enforcement of current sports betting laws would continue to help the legal industry succeed.