Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A prelude to my formal analysis of the NBA's Pedowitz Report

I have spent considerable time assessing the NBA's inquiry into the NBA betting scandal ever since the league's so-called "Pedowitz Report" was released, and will produce a more formal essay at some point.  Since the subject comes up so frequently with media entities, however, here is a snapshot of my take on the report.

Lawrence B. Pedowitz, a partner at the law firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, is the former chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  In August 2007, Pedowitz was selected by the NBA to head the review of the league’s officiating program.  With the assistance of a research team from his law firm, he conducted more than 200 interviews with referees and team and NBA personnel over 14 months.  The 116-page assessment, which also included reviews of several game tapes, was submitted to the NBA on October 1, 2008, and released to the press the following day.  The so-called “The Pedowitz Report” examines numerous aspects of officiating and (often arcane) NBA policy.  Its key findings regarding the referee betting scandal focus on two preeminent issues: whether other referees were involved and whether the outcomes of games were influenced by Donaghy and/or other officials.  On these matters of primacy, the report respectively (pp.39, 7) states:
We have discovered no information suggesting that any NBA referee other than Tim Donaghy has bet on NBA games or leaked confidential NBA information to gamblers…Donaghy has denied intentionally making calls designed to manipulate games, and the government has said that it found “no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct.” Based on our review, and with the information we have available, we are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion.
Observers almost universally and uncritically accepted the report’s conclusions, as can be inferred from the following sample of headlines covering the report’s release: “Donaghy Report Clears Other Refs”(Washington Post), “Probe: No evidence of other referees’ misconduct” (USA Today) , “Report confirms Donaghy was the only corrupt referee, clears NBA” (Philadelphia Daily News), “Review of NBA officials finds Donaghy only culprit”( ESPN.com), “NBA referees are cleared; Report: Only Donaghy guilty” (Boston Globe), and “Report: Donaghy fixed games alone” (Newsday).  In short, by November 2008 - with Donaghy in prison and the NBA’s review completed - what has infamously become known as the NBA betting scandal was over.  Or so it seems.

Tim Donaghy’s co-conspirators in the scheme were 42 year-old James “Jimmy” Battista, a professional gambler, and 41 year-old Thomas “Tommy” Martino, a mutual friend who served as the intermediary between Donaghy and Battista.  Battista, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transmit wagering information, received a sentence of 15 months in federal prison.  Martino pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and received a sentence of 12 months.  Just a week before Donaghy reported to prison camp in September 2008, gambler Battista began serving his sentence at the federal detention center in Brooklyn, New York.  Unlike the media blitz that announced Donaghy’s first day of incarceration, Battista’s introduction to prison life was virtually ignored.

Only two people know the intricate details of how the NBA betting scheme was conceived, how it worked, its duration, and so on – referee Donaghy and gambler Battista.  On the most consequential matter, Donaghy insists he did not influence games, and this is difficult for third parties to assess merely by reviewing game tapes.  Furthermore, the referee had no knowledge of how much money was being wagered based on information he provided to Battista, how it was being placed, by whom, where and why.  Thus, even though it seems as though the NBA scandal was examined by the league and numerous media observers, there is quite a lot that is not publicly known.  In fact, the Pedowitz Report (p.19) notes, “Despite our repeated requests, Donaghy has declined to speak with us. The government also has declined to share any non-public information from its investigation with us.”  Combined with Battista’s refusal to speak with its researchers, the Pedowitz group was confined to reviewing the public record, namely court filings.  This critical weakness doomed the Pedowitz Report from being anything other than a rather superficial synopsis of court activity and kept it far from being an incisive look into the scandal. For this, they would have needed access to the scandal’s architect, pro gambler Battista.  

Jimmy Battista is the lone individual who can answer numerous vital questions, including whether or not there is evidence Donaghy influenced games and whether he was the lone referee involved in the scandal.  Battista can also explain how and why he (and others) were able to bet on Donaghy’s games for a significant period of time without being detected by sports books, various authorities, or the NBA.  Though he pleaded guilty, Battista refused to cooperate with authorities.  He has yet to share his insights into the scandal, including - and especially - how he came to orchestrate the scheme in the first place.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Bookin', bettin', and organized crime: A primer

It has occurred to me that the audience following the NBA betting scandal featuring referee Tim Donaghy and pro gambler Jimmy Battista, while cognizant of the general concept of illicit sports gambling, may not be as familiar with the traditional roles played by underworld figures in this arena.  This has permitted any number of misstatements and conspiracy myths to flourish vis-a-vis the Donaghy-Battista scheme.  (I very briefly summarized the common relationships between organized criminals and illicit gambling here.)

As it turns out, there is an ongoing bookmaking and betting "mob" case that can serve as a concise but great tutorial for interested parties.  Comically, and ironically, the case is based in Delaware County, PA, the same suburban Philadelphia county that is home to Battista (though there is no suggestion the current case has anything to do with him or with the NBA scandal).  The case has been widely covered in the print media, most especially by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Delco Times.

The so-called "Delco Nostra" case is relevant to the public's understanding of the NBA betting scandal only to the extent that it exhibits the expected relationship between bookies, bettors, and organized crime (none of which have been alleged by federal authorities vis-a-vis the NBA scandal) and the expected use of the term "mob associate" (so loosely attributed to Battista first by Donaghy and then promoted uncritically by most in the media, though never stated in the official record or by law enforcement authorities throughout the case).

Here is how the Delco Times summed up the alleged relationship between these symbiotic "Delco Nostra" partners:
"A state grand jury linked (alleged bookmaking ringleader Nicholas "Nicky The Hat") Cimino with the Philadelphia mob, citing his close association with Louis "Bent Finger Louie" Monacello. Cimino allegedly paid Monacello, an alleged associate and enforcer for the Philadelphia organized crime family, a regular sum of money every month as a "tax" on his illegal casino in Ridley, according to the grand jury presentment. Monacello was also allegedly used by Cimino to collect gambling debts and payments on high-interest loans."
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General offered a corresponding synopsis of the caseGeorge Anastasia, the Inquirer's well-regarded "mob" reporter, is featured in a short yet insightful vid clip (see below) summing up the "Delco Nostra" bookin' and bettin' case.

Thus, there are at least three key components present in the textbook illicit gambling "Delco Nostra" case that are not evident in the NBA betting scandal vis-a-vis organized crime: 1) a relationship between a bookmaker/bettor and an organized crime figure (a "mob associate" in the common/assumed usage of the term); 2) a payment/tax from the bookie/bettor to "the mob" for services such as collecting gambling debts; and 3) law enforcement authorities and the official record as the primary sources of the public's information.

On the dubious and salacious "13 other referees are involved" claim

Because I am in a unique position - and, in fact have motivations - to address this, it requires its own post (whereas other dubious claims are amalgamated elsewhere on this blog). 

During his current press tour promoting his book, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy has repeatedly stated (in various iterations) that his co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, is claiming 13 other referees were involved.1  This claim stems a single, unbelievably speculative media story based exclusively on an anonymous source put out by a local NBC affiliate (WHDH, Boston) on 11/25/09, which I immediately publicly discredited as "ridiculous and irresponsible" hours after it aired.

Battista has made no such claims, nor does he make such claims.  The same can be said of me, as someone who has interviewed Battista and others with intimate knowledge of the scheme extensively.  I can quite easily imagine some of Donaghy's incentives to promote this, but like many other matters in the scandal coverage often emanating from Donaghy himself, it has no basis in fact. 

1. For example, Donaghy said the following on 12/8/09 during an interview with "Boomer and Carton" on WFAN, New York (at 23:27 of the interview): "Battista is also saying that he had 13 other referees on his payroll that he worked with."

The NBA betting scandal: Follow the (smart) money

There has been very little discussed of betting line movement on NBA games Tim Donaghy officiated.  Though this is a challenging assignment for a variety of reasons (e.g., multiple sportsbooks each with its own line, the passage of time), such an assessment would likely yield compelling results.

On a related note, those who are commenting on games it is suspected Donaghy bet should proceed with caution without knowing precisely what betting propositions were in play.  That is, even if there was agreement upon which games were part of Donaghy's betting record (which there clearly is not, of course), simply knowing the opening or closing betting line of a particular sportsbook may not allow for conclusive evidence of a winning or losing proposition.  This sort of analysis would require knowing what line(s) Donaghy's co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, was able to obtain and exploit.

A couple of Donaghy curiosities for consideration

This is the first of what will likely be several critiques of former NBA referee Tim Donaghy's book and related tour (to be posted here and elsewhere).  Any further clarifications to his media appearances - and/or to my assessments of them - are heartily welcomed.
  • When Donaghy was interviewed on the "Boomer and Carton" program (WFAN The Fan, New York) on December 8, 2009, he stated, "Between December 12th and March 18th, the time that I was associated with (pro gambler and co-conspirator Jimmy Battista)...I was only scheduled and only worked 33 games."1  He repeated the claim two days later on Mike Missanelli's program (97.5 The Fanatic, Philadelphia).2  According to ESPN.com and elsewhere, Donaghy actually worked 39 games within that crucial time period.  This is a trivial point to casual followers, I suppose, but is not to those investigating the scandal, as will be explained in time.
  • Donaghy's original claims re: "the mob" were restricted to having heard a rumor from his "true friend" (and co-conspirator) Tommy Martino that Martino's longtime best friend Jimmy Battista was somehow "connected" to organized crime.  This quickly morphed into Battista matter-of-factly being referred to by Donaghy as a "mob associate".  The escalation and sensationalism has continued throughout the book tour, unfortunately, where Donaghy has routinely referred to Battista and Martino as "mob associates".  Most troubling, at least for those trying to get the story right, on at least one occasion he referred to them as "members of the Gambino crime family"3 and on another permitted Battista to be labeled as "a member of the Gambino crime family."4  As my students and academic colleagues will attest, I am hyper-sensitive to the mythology that dominates my niche research area.  Tragically, though not surprisingly, this book tour - complete with loaded terms being tossed around with abandon by Donaghy and by numerous hosts and analysts - is but the latest exhibition in the social construction of organized crime.  Necessarily, this set of circumstances perpetuates conspiracy myths that are commonly rooted in nothing more than street legends.  In the immediate case, I am guessing part of the problem stems from the forums being exploited, namely sports-centered outlets with little expertise (or care, for that matter) regarding the substance and validity of the "mob" claims.
1. At approx. 22:20 of the interview. 
2. At 13:10 of the interview.
3. Dan Le Batard Show, 790am "The Ticket" (Miami), 12/9/09, at :48 of the interview.
4. Mayhem in the AM Show, 790am "The Zone" (Atlanta), 12/8/09, at 7:23 of the interview.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Latest from True Hoop on Donaghy

Tim Donaghy and the lie detector (story and vid clip) posted 12/17/09

"Has the FBI exonerated Tim Donaghy?" posted 12/16/09

Some new Donaghy analysis

Finally, some new tidbits and takes on the Donaghy situation.

The latest assessment of former referee Tim Donaghy's allegations comes from Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press, who (12/23/09) writes in part:

"The NBA isn't fixed. Anyone who believes to the contrary must then assume the natural next step of believing in the existence of a multilayered fraud meant to deliberately deceive the general public.  If you're certain that the NBA is nothing more than a conspiracy-cloaked, gambling-shadowed scam, there is no alternative but to walk away from the product and never watch another second - or else you're a willing accomplice to a criminal act...(Former referee Tim) Donaghy has become a hero to those who have long suspected that some referees hold grudges against some players while granting special privileges to others. But that's hardly a news flash. Donaghy isn't saying anything that anyone with an ounce of common sense couldn't already figure out..."
Sharp's column is syndicated, and can be found on the web sites of numerous other media outlets if the Free Press link above is problematic.

The Painted Area, part of the True Hoop Network of blogs (affiliated with ESPN), posted an assessment of Donaghy's claims on 12/22/09.

ESPN.com's Bill Simmons discusses Donaghy's book and claims with noted author and commentator Malcolm Gladwell 12/18/09.
The exchange includes this from Simmons: "I love how (Donaghy's) arguing that he made 80 percent (of his bets on NBA games) on the biases of other referees, but Donaghy, the guy who was gambling on professional basketball and calling other referees pretending to be friends but secretly pumping them for information, somehow managed to remain unbiased that whole time. Pull this leg and it plays "Jingle Bells." On the other hand, he tapped into four things that had been haunting the league for a while: certain fishy moments in playoff games from 1999-2002 (things I was writing about even at the time); some blatant, if-you-saw-it-happening-in-person-you-could-feel-it examples of officials barely being able to conceal their disgust for certain players or coaches (a recurring theme of the past two decades); conflicts of interest with stars doing favors off the court for referees (for instance, sending a signed jersey or sneakers to an official who runs a charity); and a fear in general that officials hold too much sway over every basketball game. All he did was regurgitate the same tales/whispers/rumors/concerns that everyone within NBA circles had already heard and digested, but for the general public, it was eye-opening."

Re: Donaghy's claims he won between 70-80% of his bets without fixing games, Simmons writes, "if Donaghy was smart, he'd scrap the book and open a 1-900 gambling hotline," something I noted here weeks ago.

"On the DL" discusses Tim Donaghy's book with TalkHoops

"On the DL" discusses Tim Donaghy's book with TalkHoops.net 12/15/09

Audio discussion between "On the DL" host Dan Levy and Zach Harper of Talkhoops.net
(Donaghy-specific discussion is from 18:05 - 38:50)

Starting at 19:55, Harper offers this assessment re: Donaghy's supposed betting success rate and the related means to attain it: "Any advanced NBA blogger, any NBA writer (knows) a lot of the things that (Donaghy) is claiming as inside information...This is all stuff that above-average NBA fans will know, and yet we're not going to go out and bet and win at a 70 percent clip...I just believe he's either lying in the book, in this 'tell-all' book where he doesn't tell all, or he is withholding information which, in this situation, could be considered the same thing."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the diminishing posting of Donaghy media coverage

As I stated below, I am not editorializing in my posting of Tim Donaghy/Personal Foul media coverage.  Whatever media I find and can link to, I post, despite the fact that I disagree with a rather large percentage of the linked content.  I haven't posted links to appearances over the past few days, however, simply because they are essentially all the same, and each is heavily reliant upon whatever materials have been supplied to the press (I am guessing, just like with other books, by the publisher).  Thus, the first wave of interviews (posted here throughout December) can be referenced as a representative sample of what the former referee is saying about the scandal.  Now that it is clear what will be asked and said during these media appearances ("interviews" is too strong a word), I will only link to pieces that are newsworthy, such as the sabermetric analysis of Donaghy's claims posted a few days ago.  In the event a host strays from the template and/or Donaghy veers off-message, and there is thus something noteworthy to consider, I'll certainly post it here.

Regarding the Donaghy book tour, I have been amazed at the manner in which the subject matter is being treated.  After all, it isn't as though these various radio and tv hosts (along with a smattering of journalists) are interviewing a movie star about a film release, and thus can afford to simply follow along with the suggested interview questions and bullet-point highlights supplied beforehand.  Rather, this is a complex, controversial, potentially consequential story involving real people and real entities, for which there is an historical record to reference.  That this distinction regarding the material is not being made throughout most of the media is disappointing, problematic, or worse.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen

For a host of reasons (especially the dribs and drabs mentioned in the press, and spread throughout the blogosphere), here (again) is a synopsis of my current project, Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade/2011). 

Though not expressly my research area, illicit gambling has never been far from my organized crime work. Certainly, the two-degrees of separation that often mark the underworld commonly involve the extortion of bookies by local syndicates. Further still, organized crime groups usually have complex relationships with bookies (and with bettors, for that matter). These complicated areas include: financial assistance (usually in the form of loan sharking by the syndicate, though there may be occasions bookies and bettors in fact assist the crime organization) to “mediation” between various parties to money laundering and so on. For these reasons - and more, I wholeheartedly welcomed the opportunity to research the recent NBA betting scandal when granted access to the scandal’s progenitor, professional gambler James Battista, back in March of 2008.
Researching the NBA betting scandal has consumed my time and energy since I first interviewed the man known in big-time betting circles as “the Sheep” - Jimmy “Baba” Battista - in the spring of 2008.  The new book, like practically all else I have penned, relies upon a mix of numerous interviews, court and law enforcement documents, and related media coverage. Battista did not cooperate with authorities, and has not spoken publicly about the extent, duration and mechanics of the outrageous scheme. Though the book details the activities which placed him in federal prison, it also discusses his remarkable bookmaking and betting career, and examines the fascinating, close-knit fraternity of the world’s most consequential sports bettors.
Now that the research and writing of Gaming the Game is all but complete, more will be posted about the current project as events warrant.  Please know this would have been done ages ago if the project was simply a primary interview subject (pro gambler Jimmy "Baba" Battista) speaking into a tape recorder.  Documenting as much of the story as possible required considerable legwork, and I hope the readership appreciates the final product.  (Related note: It didn't help humoring interest from Hollywood throughout the process).
A note to my students and colleagues: Whereas Black Brothers, Inc.: The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia (Milo, 2005/07) was a conventional read that followed considerable academic writing on similar and related subject matter, Gaming the Game will be mainstream reading followed by academic journal articles (and perhaps an academic text on the general sociology and history of big-time betting).

A note to the media: I will post as much info as possible when time and circumstances permit.  As a courtesy, I would very much appreciate interested parties contact me through Chuck Marsh of Penn State's University Relations Office.  Thanks as always for your understanding.

Sabermetric Research on Donaghy betting claims

In the course of researching Gaming the Game, I have had the occasion to review statistical analyses of various basketball and betting trends.  Predictably, this involved interviewing and/or relying upon a few Sabermetric experts and devotees.  Phil Birnbaum, host of the Sabermetric Research blog, posted his most recent analysis of Donaghy claims yesterday: "Did Tim Donaghy really win 70% of his bets against the spread?"

Professor Wayne L. Winston is Professor of Operations & Decision Technologies at Indiana University in their Kelly School of Business.  I linked earlier to Dr. Winston's current book, Mathletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football, but I'll do so again here for convenience.  In Chapter 36 (pp. 244-47) of Mathletics, "Did Tim Donaghy Fix NBA Games," Winston briefly analyzes a sampling of 15 games officiated by Donaghy, based on what little evidence has been in the public domain about games on which he bet and officiated.  Professor Winston concludes there are statistical curiosities that need to be explored, and offers suggestions for further study in this regard should the appropriate data ever become available.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Biggest Donaghy question remains: Which games?

I intended to provide the broader context for this column's thesis in this post, but don't have the time at the moment.  Until then, here is a Philadelphia Daily News column by hoops and betting expert Dick Jerardi for which I was interviewed:

Biggest Donaghy question remains: Which games?

Next round of Donaghy coverage

Please see immediate post below for previous media coverage and my brief comment on these posts.

Philadelphia Daily News 12/11/09 Donaghy reiterates he never threw games

Associated Press 12/11/09 Ref spokesman says Donaghy threatened him

Latest ESPN comprehensive True Hoop analysis 12/10/09

More video footage released 12/10/09 of ESPN True Hoop (Henry Abbott) Donaghy interview

Fox News Channel's "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" interview 12/10/09 part 1 and part 2

FNC's "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" 12/10/09 interview transcript 

97.5 The Fanatic/ESPN 950 (Philadelphia) Mike Missanelli 12/10/09 interview audio

WTSP 10 Connects (Tampa Bay television) interview video

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Donaghy media blitz continues

I'll be posting a rather large critique of the Donaghy ongoings in the very near future, but until then I'll try to post links to as much coverage as possible (print, tv, radio, and internet).  Please know I am not editorializing in my choice of posted links.  That is, I am not taking the time to assess the coverage within each item, and I am sure I would take exception to much of the content I am listing below (most recent first):

Philadelphia Daily News 12/10/09

Philadelphia Inquirer 12/10/09

Philadelphia Inquirer 12/10/09 (second article)

True Hoop brief video clip of Donaghy interview re: book proceeds

ESPN J.A. Adande commentary (video)

ESPN 1050 (NY) "The Brandon Tierney Show" 12/9/09 interview audio

NY Daily News columnist commentary on Tierney interview and Knicks broadcaster Mike Breen call to show following interview

Sportsnet.ca column 12/9/09

ESPN.com column 12/9/09 (Jemele Hill)

Boomer and Carton on WFAN (New York) 12/8/09 interview audio

ESPN Radio (L.A.) Mason and Ireland 12/8/09 interview audio

Mayhem in the AM 790 The Zone (Atlanta) 12/8/09 interview audio

ESPN feeds into ESPN-NBA conspiracy theory

I have no knowledge regarding whether or not ESPN's relationship with the NBA has influenced the network's reporting of the NBA betting scandal involving former referee Tim Donaghy, namely to irresponsibly undermine his credibility on behalf of the league, as many firmly believe and ESPN firmly denies.  However, ESPN isn't helping its case by posting a sidebar of otherwise substantive Donaghy coverage with his picture next to a large headline screaming "Debunked!"

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More ESPN True Hoop assessments of Donaghy claims

More analyses of Donaghy's claims by ESPN's True Hoop staff here and here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

ESPN's True Hoop assessment of Donaghy's claims

'Talk about impressive work.  Best assessment to date and a must read.

Donaghy's ESPN appearances on 12/7/09

I will get around to critiquing the various media treatments, but until then here are the posted links regarding former referee Tim Donaghy's appearances on ESPN:

OTL "Is Donaghy's Story Believable?"

Podcast of Donaghy's interview on ESPN Radio

Saturday, December 5, 2009

60 Minutes on Donaghy's betting success

(Offscreen) Anchor: Yet, based on investigations by 60 Minutes and the FBI, was [Donaghy] actually influenced in the way he was refereeing?
CBS Correspondent Bob Simon: He says he didn't let his betting influence his games.  Now, this is rather hard to believe, but the FBI and the NBA thoroughly investigated him and they agree that he did not let his betting influence his games.

Anchor: However, he had an accuracy of about 70-80%, so how does he explain this?
Simon: He explains his accuracy by knowing the relationships that different refs had with different players, different general managers, and different owners.  He said that refs had biases; they liked certain players, disliked others, the same with managers and owners, and by knowing which refs were ref'ing which particular games, which teams, he then knew which team to bet on.

Whew.  Where to begin?!  The easiest issue to address is Donaghy's assertion that he won "70-80%" of his bets.  For starters, is this according to him, exclusively (i.e., not supported by the FBI, independent reporting, etc.)?  Next, is he saying he won "70-80%" of the 122-153 games he bet between 2003 and 2007? Lastly, though most importantly, is he claiming he had this (outrageous!) betting success rate for games he officiated and for NBA games he did not?  Let's hope that CBS at least asked him this last question.  Incidentally, I am giving 60 Minutes the benefit of the doubt by assuming the interview was taped before Donaghy's co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, finally spoke publicly last week.  As Battista explained to Bryant Gumbel on his HBO "Real Sports" program, the referee's "unheard of" betting win rate (37-10, or 78.7%) applied only to games Donaghy, himself, officiated.  According to Battista, Donaghy's bets on NBA games he didn't referee were so bad that the gambler ultimately stopped taking them.

Battista's claims are relevant especially when you consider Simon's assertion that "the FBI and the NBA thoroughly investigated him and they agree that he did not let his betting influence his games" (emphasis added).  Again, there is a written, official record we can reference for clarity on this issue of primacy.

According to the federal government, as quoted on p.27 of the NBA's Pedowitz Report, Donaghy admitted that he “compromised his objectivity as a referee because of his personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games, and that this personal interest might have subconsciously affected his on-court performance."  Furthermore, regarding whether the FBI and/or the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York supposedly concluded Donaghy didn't alter the outcomes of games, let's look at what little has actually been said on this controversial topic (and please pay close attention to the government's choice of words - what is said and what isn't).

The government's brief statement on this issue is readily available on pp.15-16 of the Pedowitz Report: "There is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct."  That's it.  It is carefully worded, stopping far short from concluding anything, and for good reason.  Short of: incriminating wiretaps, cooperating witnesses and/or government informants (who could, for instance, claim a referee was explaining how the scheme worked or bragging about it, etc.), what other options remain to conclude whether or not a referee was fixing games?  Betting success rate?  According to whom, and are there valid records to support the claims?  Even if there was a credible witness who maintained such records, against whose betting success would the referee be compared to demonstrate he was altering the outcomes of games, and how would one determine what winning percentage was proof of game-fixing?  Some suggest reviewing Donaghy's game tapes.  Sure, worth a try, I suppose, but considering how subjective calls are in many sports including basketball, I think experts agree you'd be hard pressed to actually show that Donaghy "intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct."

There are two key remaining factors to consider vis-a-vis the government's assessment (to date) of Donaghy's possible game-fixing.  First, recall that his co-conspirator, pro gambler Jimmy Battista, has never been interviewed by the FBI.  Second, also recall that looking into the possibility an NBA referee was altering the outcomes of games was far removed from the original intent of the FBI investigation, and it is quite possible determining the fixing of games was never a major FBI concern.  To my knowledge, no one has asked the FBI precisely how interested they were in possible game-fixing, and precisely what efforts were made to assess this.  Given these two concerns, let's turn to Simon's assertions that "the NBA thoroughly investigated" Donaghy and that "they agree [with the FBI] that he did not let his betting influence his games".  Pay attention to the soft and vague language - and the repeated assumptions - in the NBA's Pedowitz Report:

"We have no reason to doubt the thoroughness of the government’s investigation on which it based its conclusion. We believe that the government would have been naturally skeptical of Donaghy’s assertion that he did not go beyond exploiting “inside” information and did not intentionally make calls to influence the outcome of games. Before concluding that there was no evidence that Donaghy intentionally made incorrect calls, the government investigators doubtless questioned Donaghy carefully about the specific non-public information on which he based his picks, and his conduct while officiating those sixteen games. Because the NBA provided video of games that Donaghy officiated, the government also would have had the opportunity to review these games and to cross-examine Donaghy ― and assess the logic of his explanations and his demeanor. While we do not know what Donaghy told the government, he clearly convinced them that he had not manipulated these games" (p. 28, emphasis added).

In addition to the apparent lack of access to the FBI, the NBA/Pedowitz group did not have access to gambler Jimmy Battista or to referee Tim Donaghy.  Without the two key conspirators, the NBA was left to assume the federal government had treated possible game-fixing with the same degree of seriousness the league ostensibly would have (if only in-house) - and to find other avenues of investigation.  According the the Pedowitz group, they reviewed several of Donaghy's game tapes, and interviewed scores of NBA referees, NBA experts, and sports betting experts, resulting in the following conclusion (p.33): 

"Given the information currently in our possession, we and the League’s experts are unable to contradict the government’s conclusion that '[t]here is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling during a game in order to increase the likelihood that his gambling pick would be correct'” (emphasis added).  This tepid statement is a far cry from the one suggested by Bob Simon in the CBS piece and cited above, namely that the NBA has matter-of-factly concluded that "Tim Donaghy did not let his betting influence his games."

All of the above has been in the public domain (as evidenced by my incessant linking), and was thus readily available to CBS/60 Minutes and to any other news organizations which cared to look.  Needless to say, my 20+ months of research into this subject matter - complete with my exclusive access to former pro gambler Battista - have afforded me a MUCH more detailed and nuanced understanding of the above that the public has not seen or considered.  Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen will be the most comprehensive treatment of this story available.

CBS 60 Minutes Donaghy preview part I (overview of the segment)

CBS correspondent Bob Simon's preview of tomorrow's Tim Donaghy piece is posted online, as is another of Donaghy's interview.  (A transcript of each is posted on this blog.)

After viewing the posted previews, I quite seriously question whether anyone at 60 Minutes bothered to look at the substantive court filings in the case.  For instance, in Simon's preview, he is asked how many games Donaghy bet on during his officiating career, to which Simon oddly replies:

Well, he says be bet on about a hundred games  He won't say how many of those games he officiated, but he says, 'A lot,' and it went on for four years. 

A court filing  in re: Donaghy's sentencing (which you can quite easily find online quoted on p.23 of the NBA's Pedowitz Report) states:

"Beginning in or about 2003, and continuing into 2007, Donaghy provided betting recommendations or “picks” on NBA games ― including games he officiated ― to Jack Concannon, who was one of Donaghy’s friends. Donaghy and Concannon bet on approximately 40 games per season...Donaghy temporarily stopped betting with Concannon in December 2006, when . . . Donaghy began dealing with James Battista and Thomas Martino, both of whom Donaghy knew from high school. He resumed dealing with Concannon, however, in approximately February 2007."

Another court filing (which can also found online quoted on p.26 of the Pedowitz Report) states:

"In the Spring of 2003, Donaghy provided picks for games he refereed on only 2-3 occasions. Over the next three full seasons (2003-2004, 2004-2005, and 2005-2006), however, Donaghy bet on numerous games that he worked. The government’s investigation revealed that Donaghy provided picks for anywhere from 30 to 40 such games for each of those three seasons. During the 2006-2007 season (the time period charged in the information), Donaghy bet on approximately 30 games..."  The government later noted that although Donaghy bet on 30 NBA games during the '06-07 season, only 16 of those were games he officiated.

So, according to the federal government, the low estimate for Donaghy's bets on games he officiated = 2 + (30 x 3) + 16 = 108, while the high estimate = 3 + (40 x 3) + 16 = 139.  Why CBS correspondent Bob Simon states flippantly that Donaghy "says he bet on about a hundred games" and that Donaghy "won't say how many of those games he officiated" is anyone's guess.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Transcript of 60 Minutes Donaghy preview re: betting

In addition to my curiosities re: organized crime's supposed role in the NBA betting scandal, I have also been keen to assess the many issues involving Donaghy's alleged betting success rate.  Here is a transcript of the preview released by CBS yesterday:

(Off-screen) Anchor: Bob, you interviewed Tim Donaghy, the infamous NBA referee who bet on games he officiated in.  How large was the scope of this problem, how long did it go on for, and about how many games did he bet on?

CBS Correspondent Bob Simon: Well, he says be bet on about a hundred games.  He won't say how many of those games he officiated, but he says, 'A lot,' and it went on for four years.  The first three years, he was doing just fine.  He was placing his bets through a friend.  He was afraid of being caught, so that's why he did it that way.  But then in the fourth year, The Mob found out and they got involved with Donaghy and that led to his downfall.

Anchor: Yet, based on investigations by 60 Minutes and the FBI, was he actually influenced in the way he was refereeing?

Simon: He says he didn't let his betting influence his games.  Now, this is rather hard to believe, but the FBI and the NBA thoroughly investigated him and they agree that he did not let his betting influence his games.

Anchor: However, he had an accuracy of about 70-80%, so how does he explain this?

Simon: He explains his accuracy by knowing the relationships that different refs had with different players, different general managers, and different owners.  He said that refs had biases; they liked certain players, disliked others, the same with managers and owners, and by knowing which refs were ref'ing which particular games, which teams, he then knew which team to bet on.

CBS 60 Minutes Donaghy preview part II (mob allegations)

Wow.  'Just watched the online preview of the upcoming (Sunday, 12/6/09) 60 Minutes piece on former referee Tim Donaghy.  In particular, I was waiting with interest for the "Mob" comments dominating today's NBA scandal-specific news cycle (resulting in part from the brief AP story linked below, but mostly from the CBS story headlined "Ex-NBA Ref Tim Donaghy: Mob Threatened Me").  Talk about misleading - or worse!

I don't know what was more surreal, watching the video preview or reading the "news" story.  Each is obsessed with the salacious - though incredibly dubious - organized crime angle, and neither mentions the names of the two individuals who visited Donaghy at the PHL airport Marriott in December 2006.

When I saw today's headline re: "The Mob" threatening Donaghy, I assumed the reference was to his stint in prison during which, according to a Donaghy spokesperson, an "inmate claiming ties to the New York mob beat Donaghy with a heavy object."  Thus, imagine my surprise when I learned Donaghy was referring, instead, to the fateful December 2006 meeting with his longtime, close friend Tommy Martino and mutual pal, pro gambler Jimmy Battista!  These are the two unnamed men "associated with the Gambino crime family" referred to in the video segment?!  The "news" story may be worse (emphasis added):

When the Mafia learned of his [betting] success, they wanted him to work for them, he says. "They basically told me that I needed to give them the picks and if I didn't, that it's a possibility that somebody would go down and visit my wife and kids in Florida," says Donaghy...He spent 11 months in prison and provided evidence against his mob cohorts.

Thus, Jimmy Battista and Tommy Martino are the mobsters referenced in the hyper headline and throughout the organized crime-obsessed article?  Has anyone at CBS even searched Google for these characters?

On a more serious note, Donaghy told a much watered-down story to the FBI, where he apparently made no mention of Martino.  As the NBA's Pedowitz Report, quoting a court filing, states (p.24):

"Battista also threatened harm to Donaghy’s family. Battista told Donaghy that 'you don’t want anyone from New York visiting your wife and kids.' Over the preceding years, Donaghy had come to believe that Battista had organized crime connections, and so he interpreted 'New York' to be the Mafia."

As reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer, covering the former gambler's recent interview with Bryant Gumbel, "Battista denied blackmailing Donaghy as Donaghy had claimed.  'I never threatened him - I didn't have to. He was a degenerate gambler,' said Battista, pointing out that he wasn't charged with extortion."

Here's hoping the full 60 Minutes interview provides some new information, preferably based in part on documents, and that what has been released is not a representative sample of things to come.  Wow.

ESPN 12/3/09 on Donaghy's Personal Foul

Related AP Story 12/4/09

Transcript of 60 Minutes Donaghy preview re: "The Mob"

For my purposes, at least, one of the key areas of interest in the upcoming 60 Minutes interview of former referee Tim Donaghy involves the assertion he was threatened in December 2006 by organized crime figures to provide them with his NBA picks (which he had been placing, according to him, since 2003).  Here is a transcript of the preview released by CBS yesterday:

CBS Correspondent Bob Simon: "'The Mob' found out about it [his successful betting on his NBA games], and wanted in on the action.  That's when Donaghy discovered what it means to be really scared.  It started outside this hotel in Philadelphia.  The FBI says two men associated with the Gambino crime 'family' requested a meeting with Donaghy.  They took him for a ride.
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy: They came down and picked me up.

Simon: They picked you up?
Donaghy: Mm hmm.

Simon: And what happened then?
Donaghy: They basically told me that I needed to give them the picks and if I didn't, that, um, it's a possibility that somebody would go down and visit my wife and kids in Florida.

Simon: Wow.  And you believed them?
Donaghy: Yes.

Simon.  [Were] you scared?
Donaghy: Sure.

See 1:25 of the vid clip:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

More on Donaghy's book and claims

As more of former referee Tim Donaghy's claims are published, I'll try to post them here.  Today's news cycle is pre-occupied with a matter of primacy, namely Donaghy's repeated claim that he did not influence the outcomes of games to advance his betting propositions.  According to the New York Times, Donaghy states in his book:

“The big question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Did Tim Donaghy fix games?’ The answer is no. I didn’t need to fix them. I usually knew which team was going to win based on which referees had been assigned to the game, their personalities, and the relationships they had with the players and coaches of the teams involved.” 

If this is true, Donaghy should immediately open up one of those "1-900" tout lines which charge a fee for betting insights and "sure winners!".  After all, if his intimate knowledge of referee behavior - ALONE - accounted for his outrageous betting success (winning approx. 79% of his wagers), this insight would still be invaluable and the former referee could earn quite a living.

It is unlikely we'll ever see a Donaghy tout service, however.  As Donaghy's co-conspirator, former pro gambler Jimmy Battista, explained to Bryant Gumbel recently, the referee's "unheard of" betting win rate applied only to games Donaghy, himself, officiated.  According to Battista, Donaghy's bets on NBA games he didn't referee were so bad that the gambler ultimately stopped taking them. 


Philadelphia Daily News story 12/3/09

Philadelphia Daily News column 12/3/09

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Donaghy book fiasco update

According to Deadspin, Tim Donaghy has found a new publisher for his manuscript.  The newly-titled Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA will be discussed on December 6th, when the former referee appears on 60 Minutes.  It is unclear when the interview was taped and thus we don't know if Donaghy was offered an opportunity to respond to claims made by his co-conspirator, former pro gambler Jimmy Battista, in a recent appearance on HBO's Real Sports program.  Considering Donaghy's guilty plea and other filings with the government, it will be interesting to see how he offers anything new or noteworthy that would not result in criminal charges.  I will also be keen to assess what evidence exists to back up whatever claims are made in the book and during the related media blitz.

Related coverage:

Philadelphia Daily News

New York Daily News