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Illicit sports gaming rampant, you can bet on it

The sports world seems to always have its share of controversies these days. Whether sports becomes national news over someone tinkering on the wrong side of the law or pumping performance-enhancing drugs in their arm, the professional sports world is getting the bad rap lately.
Whatever happened to critiquing a player for lack of hustle? Not running a ball out to first base? Squeak in the baseline and take a charge? Playing as a team?
Well, the playing as a team part may be all but gone from the professional level, at least as a whole. Money, agents, statistics and money have ruined many teams of Queen Latifah’s famous song, ‘UNITY.’
The sports world has been rocked once again in recent weeks. Going well beyond unity, this time it is a referee fixing professional basketball games. I’m sure many high school basketball crazies can point out many games they felt could have been ‘fixed.’ Fixed because that referee on Friday night was showing favoritism to the opponent rather than the team donned on their chest.
In the professional world, money is everything. And NBA referee Tim Donaghy obviously wasn’t getting paid enough for his day job and went into helping others out. This year, Donaghy, an NBA referee, pled guilty to federal felony conspiracy charges alleging he passed along inside information on NBA games. Recently, Donaghy alleges refs helped alter outcomes of playoff game in 2002 and 2005.
With the allegations in front of the NBA, the league seems to be blowing it off as a one-referee incident. Yet professional basketball seems to be surviving quite well for trying to sweep the incident well beyond the microscope. That was until Donaghy publicly shared his side of the story. Now he is naming names, a la Jose Canseco in baseball. Everyone knows where Canseco’s allegations led: to a 20-month investigation by former senator and federal prosecutor George Mitchell.
When the Mitchell Report was released before the 2008 baseball season, fans and organizations put names with possible steroid users. To baseball purists and I guess the government, they thought our national pastime needed to be cleaned up with performance-enhancing drugs. In baseball, home runs are down and Barry Bonds, despite being the ‘Home Run King,’ is out of baseball even though he contests he can still play.
To me, fixing games for gambling purposes is a much bigger deal than steroids in baseball. This begs the question why isn’t there an all-out report on so-called fixing games? Maybe there will be.
The problem is, sports gaming is legal in several areas of the world. And with the advent of the Internet, a simple search of ‘sports gaming’ could cause a computer to go haywire with pop-up ads. Las Vegas is obviously the mecca of gaming in the United States. The strip isn’t only busy during the Super Bowl and Final Four; it is year round.
Take golf, for example. Gaming in the United Kingdom is crazy. During the British Open last year, I listened to the event on radio and quickly figured out which bookmakers had what odds on the golfer who just hit that fairway wood into the sand. The announcers were almost keeping listeners more in tune with where their money was going rather than if someone saved par or not.
The reality is gambling can be a serious addiction. Whether it is pull tabs at the convenient store, slot machines at the casino or placing a couple dollars on a horse to win, gaming can be consuming. To me, it is no surprise that a referee or professional player can become consumed with gaming with the absurd amount of money they are paid.
I just don’t want this problem to spill all over sports. I hope my government does do an investigation similar to the Mitchell Report. I bet they will find a larger social problem with gambling versus fixing professional games. But in the end, it makes money. Let’s just hope players, coaches and the guys in pin-stripes keep the game honest.