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Gaming Guru

Matt Youmans

Investigation of referee: Gambling probe rocks NBA

23 July 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- A gambling problem rocked the NBA on Friday, and while such a scandalous scenario has long been one of league commissioner David Stern's biggest fears, it seems clear the case has no link to Las Vegas.

The FBI is investigating allegations that veteran NBA referee Tim Donaghy bet on games, including ones he officiated, over the past two years. Donaghy reportedly had connections to organized crime associates.

Authorities are examining whether Donaghy made calls to affect the point spread in games on which he or associates had wagered, according to the Associated Press.

Stern's anti-betting stance has stacked the odds against Las Vegas in its pursuit of an NBA franchise, but the current FBI probe out of New York does not include Las Vegas' legal sports books.

"This will have no affect on whether an NBA team will be here or won't be here," said Jimmy Vaccaro, a local bookmaker for more than 30 years. "It does not mean a thing. There will be an uproar in the beginning and it will pass.

"How does it affect us? As far as any backlash about that's why you can't have a team in Las Vegas, this is why you would want one here."

In Nevada, where sports wagering is closely regulated, no officials claimed to have knowledge of the FBI investigation before the allegations became public Friday.

Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the Gaming Control Board, said state regulators were not contacted in the investigation.

"That kind of suggests that what was going on was going on away from Nevada," said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage. "If we are contacted by anyone, we would certainly cooperate and provide any information or insights."

Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said no abnormal NBA betting activity was spotted.

"Any type of suspicious or unusual movements, you usually hear in the industry. We're so regulated and policed, any kind of suspicion would be discussed," Kornegay said. "We haven't seen anything like that in the NBA that I can remember."

Vaccaro, public relations director for Leroy's sports books, said, "I probably would have heard something if it was widespread."

If anything, Vaccaro said, the case should illustrate to Stern that illegal wagering nationwide is the root of most problems, and Nevada's regulated wagering can be a positive service to the NBA.

Vaccaro said there is "absolutely zero" chance the FBI investigation should further jeopardize Las Vegas' chances of attracting a franchise.

At Stern's insistence, Las Vegas banned betting on the NBA All-Star Game in February in order to host it. But that was widely viewed as a one-time exception.

"I think it's a good thing Las Vegas has the type of regulation that makes sure that bad things don't happen," Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

Donaghy, 40, is from Springfield, Pa., and lives in Bradenton, Fla. He is the only NBA referee to be identified in the investigation. It was reported he has resigned and made arrangements to surrender as early as next week to face charges.

According to the AP, a law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the bets involved thousands of dollars and were made on games during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.

Donaghy, a 13-year veteran, officiated 68 games in the 2005-06 season and 63 games in 2006-07. He also worked 20 playoff games, including five last season.

Investigators will find at least one suspicious game in Donaghy's recent past. He worked the Miami Heat-New York Knicks game on Feb. 26, when the Knicks shot 39 free throws to the Heat's eight. The host Knicks were favored by 4 1/2 points and won, 99-93.

"We have been cooperating with the FBI in their investigation of allegations that a single NBA referee bet on NBA games that he officiated," Stern said in a statement.

"We would like to assure our fans that no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation, to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports, and to take the necessary steps to protect against this ever happening again."

Despite the point-shaving investigation, NBA wagering in Las Vegas will not change, Vaccaro said.

"The conspiracy people will come out, and when the NBA season starts, there will be jokes made about it," Vaccaro said. "But the NBA action will continue as usual."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.