Why do we care what a disgraced NBA referee has to say about the future of legal sports gambling? Good question. But we’re getting lots of reaction from Tim Donaghy anyway.
Illegal sports betting got Donaghy booted out of NBA
Donaghy suddenly resigned from the NBA in July 2007 after refereeing 792 games, a development that was inexplicable for all of about five minutes.
Shortly thereafter, it would be revealed that he had wagered tens of thousands of dollars on NBA games – including those he’d officiated in – and had frequently passed along confidential information to bookies. He’d also taken the extra step of deliberately making calls that affected betting-related outcomes after allegedly being threatened by the mafia.
Ultimately, Donaghy served 15 months on counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce. Needless to say, he never donned a referee’s uniform again.
Plenty to say about advent of legalized wagering
But get this. In his “second life”, Donaghy now makes a living out of the very activity that booted him out of his previous career – sports betting. Along with business partner and seasoned sports bettor Danny Biancullo, he runs Refs Picks, a handicapping service poised to grow exponentially in a legalized landscape.
Despite his checkered past with sports betting, he had some salient points to make in the wake of the SCOTUS decision:
- Now that sports betting has a chance at widespread legalization, leagues will do everything to take a piece of the pie.
- The SCOTUS decision was the right one, as a path to legalized sports betting was “long overdue”.
- The NBA was laying out a shrewd public relations strategy by jumping out in front of all the other sports leagues in their support of sports betting. As a result, they believe they have a bit of moral high ground when it comes to trying to profit from it through integrity and data licensing fees.
- He labels integrity fees as hypocritical while echoing the main critique of such a demand – that the leagues should have been policing their game all along.
NBA contradicting itself in policy and actions, Donaghy opines
There’s more than a trace of disdain for certain aspects of the NBA’s conduct in Donaghy’s comments. It’s not only his aforementioned critique of the league wanting to be paid for monitoring their own sport; it’s also how he sees the preoccupation with integrity contradicted by their handling of game officiating:
- Donaghy insists referees are still making calls “based on the names on the front and back of jerseys” the majority of the time.
- Moreover, while he doesn’t necessarily feel refs are directly instructed to extend playoff series with their calls, he’s confounded when those that make erroneous, game-changing calls are rewarded by being advanced to the next postseason round.
Missing the mark on future betting habits, college athletics
Donaghy’s points as described thus far appear reasonable and progressive when it comes to legalized sports betting, the fallacies behind integrity fees and even how NBA officiating can be far from unbiased at times.
However, he also seems a bit off center in a couple of his other perspectives.
- Donaghy’s stance that underground bookies will still enjoy robust business runs counter to the prevailing view, including those espoused by career law-enforcement professionals.
- Donaghy labels tax-free winnings as a great motivator for bettors to continue utilizing elicit means to place wagers. However, he appears to greatly underestimate the allure of the reliability that a legalized sports betting entity can offer, especially to novice bettors. There’s also the considerable ease and convenience of placing a wager from one’s mobile device, something that will eventually be a reality in a substantial number of states.
- And Donaghy also hints at falling prey to a dubious view that has somehow garnered at least a modest foothold since the SCOTUS decision – that college sports in particular will now be more susceptible to a betting scandal than ever before.
In regards to the potential college sports scandals, Donaghy puts forth the possibility of an athlete getting themselves into financial hot water via online poker or similar activity, and then fixing a game at someone’s behest in order to get themselves out of a bind. The fact that there will be “more avenues to gamble” is part of Donaghy’s reasoning.
To begin with, many states considering sports betting legislation – including New Jersey – are taking steps to restrict wagering on college sports in particular.
Not to mention, anyone who’s sounded the alarm about how college athletics will be inevitably tainted with the advent of legalized wagering has yet to explain how immense amounts of money bet illegally for decades has failed to lead to such a result on a grand or frequent scale.
On this last point, considering what ultimately led to Donaghy’s downfall, “projection” might come to mind.