sports betting scandals

Timeline of Major Sports Betting Scandals

From the century-old Black Sox Scandal to Pete Rose and Tim Donaghy, sports are littered with well-known gambling scandals.

Sometimes it’s high-profile athletes betting on sports, and other times it’s organized crime schemes targeting game integrity, but what they all have in common is they’ve fascinated the public. 

With states across the country legalizing or considering legalizing sports betting interest in these scandals has been rekindled, and they’ve taken on a new significance. Instead of interesting, past scandals are flashpoints, and these cautionary tales have trickled down to lawmakers wrestling with the idea of legalizing sports betting, and how that might impact the integrity of the games.

In this column, you’ll find a timeline of sports betting scandals from thrown games to point-shaving to big-name athletes getting caught up in sports betting rings.

For a deep dive into integrity monitoring, we recommend our recent interviews with U.S. Integrity CEO Matt Holt.

1877: Louisville Grays Scandal

One of the first major sports betting scandals occurred in the fledgling National League when several members of the Louisville Grays threw games during the 1877 season. After an investigation, baseball suspended four Grays players for life: Jim Devlin, George Hall, Bill Cravern (who was tossed off a team in 1870 for throwing games), and Al Nichols.

1915: Manchester United vs. Liverpool

On April 2, 1915, Manchester United got a much-needed win over Liverpool as it tried to avoid relegation. But the integrity of the 2-0 result would soon be called into question.

Reports of large sums of money bet at 7/1 on a 2-0 United victory, coupled with some strange on-field play, resulted in an investigation that determined players from both teams were involved in fixing the game.

Seven players involved were banned from football, with all but one having their bans lifted following their service in World War I. The seventh player. Enoch West was reinstated in 1945, well after his playing days.

1919: Black Sox Scandal

The Black Sox Scandal is perhaps the most infamous sports betting scandal in the history of sports. As the story goes, a gambling syndicate allegedly led by Arnold Rothstein paid eight members of the Chicago White Sox to throw the 1919 World Series. Following an investigation, the eight players received lifetime bans from baseball, including one of the game’s all-time greats, Shoeless Joe Jackson.

1950-1951: CCNY Point Shaving

The 1950-1951 CCNY point-shaving scandal proved that sports betting scandals aren’t the sole domain of professional sports. The scandal is named for the 1950 NCAA and NIT champion City College of New York (CCNY) but involved several schools. In addition to CCNY, the schools were New York University, Long Island University, Manhattan College, Bradley University, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Toledo. 

1961: NCAA Basketball Scandal

A decade after the CCNY scandal, NCAA basketball had its second major point-shaving scandal during the 1960–61 season.

This time around, 37 players from 22 schools were involved, including some very well known programs like UCONN, UNC, and NC State. The scandal would also play a role in the sports betting as future NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue unwittingly played in fixed games, a factor that led to his hardline anti-gambling stance.

1963: Alex Karras and Paul Hornung

In 1963, two NFL stars, Paul Hornung and Alex Karras, got popped for betting on sports. The pair came clean about their sports betting habits and were suspended indefinitely. In March 1964, both players were reinstated.

Hornung is one of the greatest athletes in US history. The Heisman Trophy winner and NFL MVP played multiple positions (quarterback, halfback, and placekicker) on the football field, as well as playing on the Notre Dame basketball team. Hornung is enshrined in both the pro and college football Hall of Fame.

Karrass is also a pro and college football Hall of Famer and had a successful post-NFL career as an actor. Karras appeared in Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles and had a successful sitcom run as a TV dad in the show Webster.

1978-1979: Boston College Basketball

Boston College players conspired with mobsters (including Henry Hill and Jimmy “The Gent” Burke of Goodfellas fame) to fix nine games during the 1978-1979 season.

The scheme was only discovered after Hill’s arrest on drug charges in 1980. Hill used his knowledge of the point-shaving scheme to work out a deal with the authorities.

Because of the organized crime element, and the involvement of key mobsters later featured in the movie Goodfellas, the scandal is one of the best known in US sports.

1985: Tulane Basketball  

College basketball dealt with its fourth major betting scandal in as many decades when three members of the Tulane men’s basketball team, including star John “Hot Rod” Williams, were arrested for conspiracy to commit sports bribery stemming from points shaving in several games.

Williams would go on to have a solid NBA career, but the Tulane men’s basketball program wasn’t so fortunate. In the aftermath of the scandal, the basketball program was shuttered by the school for three years.

In the 1992 movie White Man Can’t Jump, Woody Harrelson’s character mentions that he played college basketball in Louisiana. He notes that it didn’t work out when he didn’t follow-through on a point-shaving scheme, a possible reference to the failed attempt by the members of the 1985 Tulane team (located in New Orleans) to shave points in a game against Virginia Tech.

1989: Pete Rose and the Dowd Report

After a lengthy investigation, baseball legend and Cincinnati Reds Manager Pete Rose was suspended for life from baseball for betting on baseball games, including 52 Cincinnati Reds games in 1987. Rose denied the allegations for years, before finally coming clean about his transgressions.

Rose has applied for reinstatement many times over the years, but thus far, those efforts have fallen on deaf ears, and despite being a member of MLB All-Century Team and its all-time hits leader, Rose is not a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 1990s: NCCAB Point Shaving Scandals

The mid-1990s saw two college basketball point-shaving scandals unfold.

In 1994, two members of the Arizona State basketball team conspired to fix four games during the 1993-1994 season.

A similar scandal was uncovered in 1995 when two Northwestern basketball players were indicted for taking money to shave points in three games.

2004-2006: Toledo Basketball and Football Point Shaving

A major investigation at the University of Toledo uncovered improprieties by the school’s football and basketball program. A Las Vegas odds-making firm uncovered the scandal after it noticed suspicious bets on the school’s games over two years.

The University of Toledo scandal was the first time two different programs at the same school were found to be rigging games. 

2006: Operation Slapshot

Operation Slapshot is the codename for a widescale investigation into an illegal sports betting ring. The scandal makes our list for one reason, the big names linked to the investigation, including then Phoenix Coyote assistant coach Rick Tocchet, Janet Jones-Gretzky, and Jeremy Roenick.

Like the Karras-Hornung entry, Operation Slapshot didn’t involve match-fixing or game integrity. Instead, it was of interest for shedding light on the sports betting and gambling habits of famous athletes.

2007: Tim Donaghy

The Tim Donaghy scandal rocked the sports world. Donaghy, a longtime NBA referee, was sentenced to 15-months in prison for not only betting on NBA game he officiated but for conspiring with organized crime figures to rig games by making calls to manipulate the spread and providing inside information.

Donaghy has been outspoken about his involvement in sports betting since his release from prison. He’s even promoted a memoir and a movie about his role in the scandal.

The 2010s: A Trio of NCAAB Scandals

College basketball makes another appearance on this list with three point-shaving scandals in the first half of the decade.

In 2011 it was the University of San Diego that fell prey to a point-shaving scheme. In 2012 a point-shaving scandal occurred at Auburn University. And in 2014, it was UTEP’s turn.

2019: Tennis Goes Under the Microscope

When it comes to match-fixing, tennis is the new college basketball.

Recent allegations have ranged from referees accepting bribes to players throwing meaningless matches. Rumors had been circulating for years, but recent investigations have made it clear: Tennis appears to have a serious match-fixing issue.

As is the case in esports, tennis suffers from huge pay disparities between its top talent and the players ranked much lower, or those competing in lesser tours and events.  That opens the door for scandal.

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