Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The media and crime rate reporting

It is difficult to do this succinctly, so please pardon me for the length of what follows.  Nevertheless, I wanted a ready-made, comprehensive list of examples to cite as this discussion continues.

News followers may have noticed that the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR) was released this week.  This year's UCR shows that violent crime decreased for the fourth straight year, while property crime declined for the eighth straight year.  To many in the media, for whom the leading if not exclusive explanation of "street"crimes (as opposed to organized and so-called white-collar crimes) is poverty, these declines in the midst of a severe economic crisis are confounding.  That is, these reporters and commentators - with some willing accomplices in academia - continue to report that "experts" keep expecting rises in crime because, after all, they believe and argue, people steal and commit acts of violence first and foremost as a result of their socioeconomic status.  As such, given the sky-high unemployment rate and the like, using their logic we should have begun seeing (perhaps significant) rises in crime the past few years.  Thus, this week's reporting often included quotes from Alfred Blumstein, the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz School of Public Policy.  For instance, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Professor Blumstein said, "Everyone anticipated the recession would drive things up, and it hasn't happened."  "Everyone anticipated..."?!!  Ha!  Uh, no.  Perhaps he meant to say that "everyone" predisposed to believe crime is inextricably linked to socioeconomic conditions - independent of all sorts of behaviors, policies, and phenomena - "anticipated the recession" would drive the crime rate up.  Others (who are data-driven!) learned long ago that a causal relationship between economic conditions and crime rates, at the macro and micro levels, is anything but clear.

Unfortunately, this rationale - though predicated more on ideology than on evidence, and wildly uninformed - is nothing new.  This theme has dominated media reporting of the nation's crime rates for at least the past twenty years, and it does a disservice to the public which relies upon the media and its quoted "experts" for historical and sociological context when it comes to phenomena such as crime.  It is this reporting, of course, which is used by the masses to form opinions upon which they'll lend their support (in various fashions) to initiatives (ostensibly) crafted to reduce crime.  As such, I thought I'd offer a retrospective on what has passed for reporting on crime rates so that others may be informed going forward (emphases mine).

Poor Economy = More Crime

For starters, here is the New York Times coverage of what was the latest crime stat reporting:

May 23, 2011, "Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts":
“Striking,” said Alfred Blumstein, a professor and a criminologist at the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University, because it came “at a time when everyone anticipated it could be going up because of the recession.”
To demonstrate how consistently the New York Times has reported this theme, consider the following articles, each of which was penned by Fox Butterfield back when he worked for the Times (much more on Butterfield's crime rate reporting appears below):

October 28, 2003, "Rate of Serious Crime Held Largely Steady Last Year, Report by F.B.I. Says":
For the third straight year, the rate of serious crime in the United States showed little change in 2002, dropping by a mere 1.1 percent, according to an annual count issued yesterday by the F.B.I...Professor Blumstein, other experts and law enforcement officials said they were a little surprised that the crime rate did not rise last year, because there were a number of factors that might have led to an upturn.  These include a poor job market, especially for young people; the diversion of police resources to fighting terrorism; budget deficits that caused cutbacks in social services and prisons; and a growth in the number of young people in their prime age for committing crime.
June 17, 2003, "Crime Stayed Flat in 2002, F.B.I. Study Finds":
Crime in the United States remained relatively unchanged in 2002, dropping by a mere two-tenths of 1 percent, a report released yesterday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation shows....2002 was the third straight year that serious violent and property crime were essentially flat after falling sharply in the 1990's.  But criminal justice experts warned that a number of factors could cause crime to start increasing again rapidly. Among those factors are the downturn in the economy, cutbacks in police forces and the courts because of budget shortfalls, a rise in the number of inmates returning from prison and a larger number of teenagers.
October 29, 2002, "U.S. Crime Rate Rose 2% in 2001 After 10 Years of Decreases":
For the first time since 1991, serious and violent crime in the United States increased last year, the F.B.I. reported yesterday...Over all, crime rose 2.1 percent across the nation, the report said. Experts and law enforcement officials said the overall increase, after a decade of drops in the crime rate, appeared to reflect several factors: a faltering economy, cuts in welfare and anticrime programs, as well as fewer jobs available, more inmates returning home from prison, an increase in the teenage population, and police resources diverted to antiterrorism efforts.  In addition, the experts said, after 10 years of decreases, in which the crime rate dropped to its lowest level since the late 1960's, it would have been hard for it to keep falling.  "We all knew that the marked downward trend of crime in the 90's could not continue indefinitely," said Alfred Blumstein, a professor of statistics and criminology at Carnegie Mellon University. "The crime rate really came down very far, and one would have hoped it was an indication of improvements in society, but that didn't happen. The economy is a big part of the story.
May 31, 2001, "U.S. Crime Figures Were Stable in '00 After 8-Year Drop":
The number of serious crimes in the United States remained steady last year after an eight-year decline, the longest on record, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reported yesterday. The F.B.I.'s Uniform Crime Report cited preliminary figures for 2000 showing that overall crime nationwide was virtually unchanged from 1999. By comparison, overall crime fell by 7 percent from 1998 to 1999, and had fallen by similarly large amounts consistently since 1992...Professor Blumstein suggested that one new strategy, now that the economy had sputtered, would be to focus more attention on preventing young people from becoming involved in crime, especially by finding jobs for them.
A few comments that apply to many news articles discussing the crime rate is necessary.  It is remarkable - and troubling - how often reporters loosely state that "experts" say, X, Y, or Z, when, in fact, a single "expert" is cited in the piece (not to mention that no supporting evidence is demanded from the lone "expert").  That the mantras and themes don't change, especially when the expectations are not met as data become available, says as much about the media as it does about the "experts" they rely upon. 

Incarceration Increases Despite Crime Decrease

In addition to the uncritically-accepted economy-crime causation theme, there was the more laughable trope offered by the New York Times and its reporter Butterfield.  For years, Butterfield wrote of his confusion about the "paradox" of the prison population increasing "even as" or "despite" crime rates falling. Here are some tidy examples of how the (formerly?) influential newspaper reported on crime rates in the U.S. dating back to the 1990s, when the country began experiencing its historic crime drop (Butterfield's reporting ended in 2005, hence the most recent offered example as November 2004).

November 8, 2004, "Despite Drop in Crime, An Increase in Inmates":
The number of inmates in state and federal prisons rose 2.1 percent last year, even as violent crime and property crime fell, according to a study by the Justice Department released yesterday. The continuing increase in the prison population, despite a drop or leveling off in the crime rate in the past few years...In seeking to explain the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population...
 July 26, 2004, "U.S. 'Correctional Population' Hits New High":
The growth in what the report termed the "correctional population" comes at a time when the crime rate nationwide has been relatively stable for several years...The report does not address why the number of men and women in jail and prison and on probation and parole has continued to increase...
July 28, 2003 "Study Finds 2.6% Increase in U.S. Prison Population" (note: the subtitle for the article is "More Inmates, Despite Slight Drop in Crime"):
The nation's prison population grew 2.6 percent last year, the largest increase since 1999, according to a study by the Justice Department... The jump came despite a small decline in serious crime in 2002...
 August 13, 2001, "Number of People in State Prisons Declines Slightly":
The number of inmates in state prisons fell in the second half of last year, the first such decline since the nation's prison boom began in 1972, says a Justice Department report released yesterday.  The decline was modest, a drop of 6,200 inmates in state prisons in the last six months of 2000, or 0.5 percent of the total, the report said. But it came after the number of state prisoners rose 500 percent over the last three decades, even growing each year in the 1990's as crime dropped...
August 10, 2000, "Number in Prison Grows Despite Crime Reduction":
After an eight-year drop in crime, the population of the nation's state and federal prisons grew last year at the lowest rate since 1979, 3.4 percent, the Justice Department reported yesterday...the prison population has increased even as crime has declined...
March 21, 1999, "Prison Nation":
Despite seven straight years of falling crime, the number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons climbed again last year, to a record 1.8 million, the Justice Department reported.
 March 15, 1999, "Number of Inmates Reaches Record 1.8 Million":
The number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons rose again last year, to a record 1.8 million, though crime rates have dropped for seven consecutive years, the Justice Department reported yesterday...Another factor driving up the number of inmates even as crime seems to be falling...
August 9, 1998, "Prison Population Growing Although Crime Drops":
The nation's prison population grew by 5.2 percent in 1997, according to the Justice Department, even though crime has been declining for six straight years...
January 19, 1998, "'Defying Gravity,' Inmate Population Climbs":
Despite a decline in the crime rate over the past five years, the number of inmates in the nation's jails and prisons rose again in 1997...The continued divergence between the shrinking crime rate and the rising rate of incarceration raises a series of troublesome questions...
September 28, 1997, "Crime Keeps on Falling, but Prisons Keep on Filling":
It has become a comforting story: for five straight years, crime has been falling, led by a drop in murder. So why is the number of inmates in prisons and jails around the nation still going up?
January 20, 1997, "Slower Growth in Number of Prisoners":
The rapid growth in the number of people in the nation's jails and prisons slowed last year for the first time in a decade, according to a study released yesterday by the Justice Department, reflecting at least in part a decline in the crime rate over the past five years. ...the incarceration rate has continued to increase even as crime has fallen...
I'm sure there is more to chronicle about all of this (including still other examples), but that will have to do for now!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forthcoming posts and analysis on new site

From this point forward, all new posts and analyses will appear @

The new site allows for all sorts of things which are simply not possible on Blogger, and we have tried to incorporate all pre-existing material (from the "Actors and Activities" blog and others) into the new domain.

Thanks for your interest and support!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Gaming the Game discussed on KNBR 680/1050 The Sports Leader (San Fran)

Now that the academic year is over, I am back to entertaining interviews regarding Gaming the Game.  One of the latest such appearances was with "The Razor and Mr. T" on KNBR 680/1050 The Sports Leader in San Francisco (air date 6/1/11).  The podcast is streamed here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Las Vegas Review-Journal review of Gaming the Game

The latest review of Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011) was penned by John L. Smith and appears today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

For previous reviews of Gaming the Game, please see here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gaming the Game on PCN's "PA Books"

Some may recall that of the dozens of media interviews I entertained for Black Brothers, Inc., by far my favorite was the one conducted by the Pennsylvania Cable Network's Brian Lockman  for their popular "PA Books" program.  You can thus imagine my delight when I was invited to appear on the program with him to discuss Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011).

The 1-hour interview airs for the first time on Sunday, May 1st at 9pm.  The program may also be viewed via live streaming video at, and will be posted as a podcast on the website for one week (beginning the Monday after the initial airing).  The wide-ranging interview discusses everything from the NBA betting scandal (including the credibility of former referee Tim Donaghy) to the underworld of big-time sports gambling to the ongoing debate about the legalization of sports wagering.

UPDATE: The segment is available online here

Sunday, April 24, 2011

FBI Shuts Down Internet Poker Sites...Are Online Sportsbooks Next?

The Los Angeles Times had a fascinating (and, depending on your perspective, disturbing) piece this week which began:
A thriving online poker industry catering to Americans but operating from abroad to evade U.S. gambling laws could be wiped out by criminal charges against top executives in the business.  Eleven people, including the founders of the three largest poker sites open to U.S. players, were charged by a federal grand jury with bank fraud, money laundering and violating gambling laws. The government also is seeking to recover $3 billion from the companies. The FBI had shut down two of the sites, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, by Friday evening and were working to do the same with the third, Absolute Poker. Online visitors were greeted with a message saying, "This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I. pursuant to an Arrest Warrant," and an enumeration of federal anti-gambling statutes and penalties.  An estimated 8 million to 10 million Americans play poker online for money; thousands of them earn their living on the sites, according to a players advocacy group.  Congress tried to shut down the industry by enacting an anti-gambling law in 2006, but most sites found ways to work around the vaguely worded measure.
Other coverage included an interesting piece from The Hill, which quotes Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) commenting on the events. Frank has long been a leading advocate for legalizing online gambling.

I was interviewed about the matter by Gambling Compliance, which describes itself as "a team of legal, regulatory and finance professionals who specialise exclusively in providing high level and independent analysis of the global gaming market to our clients...The team is based in the USA and Europe and we pride ourselves on providing the most comprehensive, accurate and up to date information services coupled with cutting edge technology and world class client support."

In short, I was asked whether the arrests and the possible seizing of assets should concern offshore sportsbooks which are in very similar circumstances to the online poker sites targeted this week (based outside the U.S. though with a significant clientele [and typically at least some portion of the operation] in the States).  The piece, penned by James Kilsby, is available to subscribers only, but the takeaway is as follows.  My opinion, shaped in no small part by my interviews with federal law enforcement officials during the research for Gaming the Game, is that offshore sportsbooks should be very worried.  For whatever reasons (perhaps the dire need for funds to help offset the government's financial woes, as some have posited), the feds have apparently taken an interest in offshore sites that everyone knew about long ago but which were never the subject of serious enforcement scrutiny until now.

Here is a Bloomberg TV interview of Kilsby, an editor for Gambling Compliance, about the momentous events:

Kilsby Calls U.S. Internet Poker Charges `Game... by Bloomberg

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Philadelphia's Black Mafia on Wikipedia

As many people know, the topic of Philadelphia's Black Mafia has its own Wikipedia entry - "Black Mafia".  I probably should have publicly commented on this matter long ago, but for whatever reasons reserved my critical remarks for lesser forums.  I keep (wrongly!) assuming that readers know Wikipedia is most often not a valid source of information - and even when it is, we have little reason to know this is the case.  Here, then, are some comments about the entry which so often mentions my work as the basis for its content.

For starters, the entry's title, "Black Mafia," is troublesome since it suggests to some there is or was a monolithic African-American organized crime group operating throughout the U.S.  Though the syndicate had operations and contacts in various cities, the majority of its significant activities took place in and around Philadelphia.

I have checked the entry intermittently for some time to see where some of the questions I receive originate.  My overall sense of the entry probably mirrors what is true of the entire site, namely that it is somewhat true and somewhat properly sourced...and yet seriously flawed and wildly inaccurate (particularly depending on how long it has been since someone at least attempted to edit the piece in consideration of certain factors).  As I type, the very beginning of the entry ("Overview") includes historically inaccurate (though typical street legend) commentary which is presented as fact.

Indeed, for months the Black Mafia entry included a detailed description of the group's relationship with a wholly fabricated Italian-American crime family (I am convinced to this day that one of my many former students penned the bogus material as a means of "testing" Wikipedia, since I have often joked in class about performing such a stunt out of curiosity).  

I won't waste time commenting about the current, significant flaws in the entry simply because by the time I post this, they may not appear!  It is Wikipedia we are discussing, after all.

In closing, I should note that despite my serious concerns about the Black Mafia Wiki entry, the site's take on another of my research projects - the 2003-07 NBA betting scandal - is far worse!  Wow.  As such, I highly doubt I'll ever take the time to address its many errors, and will simply hope that interested parties consult Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen and the related blogs (see here and here).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Black Brothers, Inc. on Kindle!

I can't guess how many people have asked me when, if ever, Black Brothers, Inc. would be available on's popular Kindle.  Well, the moment has arrived!  I need to thank Pete Walsh of Milo Books for being so proactive with this.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Billy Walters property for sale

For a mere $29 million, you can purchase one of the world's most consequential sports bettor's properties (the linked WSJ piece includes insights into his vast enterprise).

Gaming the Game Q & A at

The latest interview regarding Gaming the Game was published yesterday on, a popular and influential web site covering sports and related betting information and analysis.  **Please know that when I get the time, I will be posting a commentary about what was edited out of the piece, and how such editorial decisions have adversely affected the public's understanding of the NBA betting scandal until now.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Gaming the Game on Don Best TV

Please see here for the latest interview regarding Gaming the Game.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Gaming the Game on 610 WIP (Philadelphia)

I taped an interview with Steve Trevelise for broadcast during his show tonight (technically for early Saturday morning [4/2/11], 1:00am - 5:00am) on Philly's 610 WIP.  The segment will be re-aired during his show early Sunday (4/3/11) morning, between 2:00am and 6:00am.  As I explained to Steve during the interview, a large percentage of the writing for Gaming the Game took place with him or his fellow early morning WIP host Big Daddy Graham on in the background.

Gaming the Game on ESPN 710 (L.A.)

I appeared briefly (notwithstanding cell phone issues!) with Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley today to discuss Gaming the Game.  The "Max and Marcellus Show" airs on ESPN 710 (Los Angeles).  Podcasts of their shows can be found here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Gaming the Game on The Lion Roars throughout April 2011

Each Thursday night in April at 7:00pm, Philadelphia-area Comcast subscribers will be able to watch a 30-minute interview conducted by Dr. Moylan C. Mills, Professor Emeritus of Integrative Arts at Penn State.  The segment largely focuses on Gaming the Game, with a few comments about my work more generally, including Black Brothers, Inc.  The program, The Lion Roars, airs on Comcast Cable Channel 190.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Next Gaming the Game talks/signings

There will be several of these engagements in the coming weeks, spread throughout the Greater Philadelphia region.  These events have been entertaining thus far, and I very much enjoy the Q & A session and hearing the thoughts of others regarding the big-time sports betting world and, especially, about various aspects of the NBA betting scandal.

Particulars for the next two Gaming the Game events are as follows (books will be available for sale/signing, of course):

Thursday, April 7, 2011 from 7 - 9p at SmokeEaters Pub, 7681 Frankford Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 19136 (Frankford and Sheffield), (215) 338-4188.

Thursday, April 14, 2011 from 7 - 9p at Liberties Restaurant and Bar, 705 N 2nd St., Philadelphia, PA 19123 (2nd and Fairmount), (215) 238-0660.

Gaming the Game event on March 28, 2011

There are numerous things in the works regarding Gaming the Game (book events, signings, press coverage, etc.).  I still need to post some media coverage from the past few weeks when I get the time (I am in the teeth of an academic semester right now).  Until then, interested parties may wish to know that I'll be appearing at the Chester County Book & Music Company on Monday, March 28th at 4pm, where I'll sign books and entertain questions.  CCBMC has requested that attendees RSVP.
I will also be there earlier taping an interview for broadcast on Brandywine Radio.  The segment, which will be hosted by local author (among other endeavors/titles) Bruce Mowday, is set for broadcast at 5pm on Friday, April 22, 2011.
Here is a related story in the Delaware County Daily Times.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Profile in Philadelphia Magazine

In the context of the recently-released Gaming the Game, there is a brief profile of me in the April 2011 issue of Philadelphia Magazine.  [Note: If  you read the piece, please know that the establishment being referenced was formerly a nondescript chain restaurant back when I held court with interview subjects.]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kaboni Savage update on Mob Scene

Beyond Black Brothers, Inc., I have discussed drug kingpin and murder suspect Kaboni Savage a few times on this blog (see here, here, and here).  The Philadelphia Inquirer's George Anastasia recently offered this update on Savage in a "Mob Scene" vid clip Savage:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Latest Gaming the Game press

Quick update over on NBA Scandal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Gaming the Game/Mob Scene/Angelo Lutz

In Gaming the Game, I include a funny - though important - quote from then-imprisoned Philadelphia mob associate Angelo "Fat Ange" Lutz, who was serving an 8-year federal sentence for gambling and extortion.  Lutz.  Lutz, who was incredulous at the manner in which authorities handled the 2006 case against (pro gambler Jimmy Battista's associate/partner) white-collar bookmaker/bettor Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo, is discussed in this "Mob Scene with George Anastasia" vid clip:

Gaming the Game/Mob Scene/Joey Merlino

Related to my earlier post re: John Stanfa, Joseph "Skinny Joey" Merlino's activities in the early 90's also influenced suburban, white-collar gamblers like Jimmy Battista:

Gaming the Game/Mob Scene/John Stanfa

For obvious reasons, most of my posts regarding my recently-released book, Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade, 2011), appear on the NBA Scandal blog.  The book, however, entails some forty years of history, including discussions about a number of related topics [e.g., corruption, gambling, organized crime, money laundering, etc.].  Thus, many of the vid clips on's Mob Scene with George Anastasia are directly related to several things discussed in Gaming the Game.  In this regard, I have already posted about Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo.

GTG readers will note attention is paid to John Stanfa (whose early 90's battle for power in Philly's underworld played a significant role in compelling white-collar pro gambler Jimmy Battista's career move to Las Vegas).  Here is Mob Scene on Stanfa:

Gaming the Game on Facebook

For interested parties, Gaming the Game now has its own Facebook page.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

LVRJ piece on "sports messenger bettors" (aka "runners")

As more people become familiar with Gaming the Game, generally, and the sociology of big-time professional gambling in particular, I'll try to post as much publicly-accessible and credible insights relating to this fascinating world as possible.  For instance, the Las Vegas Review-Journal's John L. Smith wrote a piece recently on "sports messenger bettors" who are more commonly known within the gambling industry as "runners".  Runners - who they are, how they are recruited and by whom, how they are paid, how they operate, the problems they cause for various parties, etc. - are discussed in detail in the new book.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Comcast SportsNet appearance tonight at 5:45p

For those in the Greater Philadelphia area (or who otherwise have access to the network), I will be on Comcast SportsNet's "Daily News Live" program discussing Gaming the Game tonight at 5:45p.  The panel, hosted by CSN's Michael Barkann, includes Stan Hochman and Dick Jerardi of the Daily NewsUPDATE: Segment is here:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Assessments of Donaghy's book and related (post-11/09) claims

Parties explicitly looking for my assessments of former NBA referee Tim Donaghy's book and related (post-11/09) claims can find them in the following locations:

Author's Note (about my assessments)

Donaghy claims (post-11/09) contradicted by the official record

Donaghy claims (post-11/09) for which there is no supporting evidence

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Gaming the Game book events this week

The first two book events for Gaming the Game are this coming week.  Here are the particulars as I understand them for each event.

Monday, 2/21/11, 6p at McGillin's Olde Ale House (Philadelphia's oldest bar, located at 1310 Drury St., 19107).

The event, which is free and open to the public, is being hosted by Robin's Books.

Thursday, 2/24/11, 7 - 9p, in Lubert Commons within Lares Building on the Penn State Abington campus (1600 Woodland Rd, 19001).  The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Gaming the Game released today

For reasons that are unclear, most of the information regarding the release of Gaming the Game: The Story Behind the NBA Betting Scandal and the Gambler Who Made It Happen (Barricade) is inaccurate (e.g., says the pub date is April 15, 2011).  The book was shipped weeks ago and, though I realize the distribution chain is notoriously slow, books should be widely available shortly.  I know that certain Philadelphia-area stores like Robin's Bookstore in Center City got stock of Gaming the Game a while ago, though they were restricted from selling the book until today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Offshore Sports Betting and the Law

As architect of the 2006-07 portion of the NBA betting scandal involving referee Tim Donaghy, pro gambler Jimmy Battista pleaded guilty in July 2008 to conspiracy to transmit wagering information across state lines.  Technically speaking, Battista was in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sec. 371 (Conspiracy to commit offense) and of 18 U.S.C. Sec 1084 (Transmission of wagering information), the latter of which explicitly states the following: 
Whoever being engaged in the business of betting or wagering knowingly uses a wire communication facility for the transmission in interstate or foreign commerce of bets or wagers or information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers on any sporting event or contest, or for the transmission of a wire communication which entitles the recipient to receive money or credit as a result of bets or wagers, or for information assisting in the placing of bets or wagers, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
The offenses to which Battista pleaded are commonly charged in gambling cases, and are generally understood.  However, as readers of Gaming the Game will notice, Battista's bets - and those of heavyweight sports bettors - were placed predominantly offshore.  U.S. law regarding offshore betting from within the U.S. is still evolving, as are the related law enforcement responses.  Interested parties may therefore wish to consult the following as primers:

18 U.S.C. (Gambling

HR. 4954 (SAFE Port Act), Title VIII: Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement - Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 - (Sec. 802), which states:

Defines "bets and wagers" for purposes of this Act to include bets for contests, sporting events, games predominantly subject to chance, and lotteries. Excludes from such definition: (1) activities governed by securities laws: (2) transactions under the Commodity Exchange Act; (3) over-the-counter derivative instruments; (4) contracts of indemnity or guarantee; (5) any contract for insurance; (6) any deposit or other transaction with an insured depository institution; and (7) reward programs or games conducted by businesses for promotional purposes.

Declares that nothing in this Act may be construed to prohibit any activity allowed under the Interstate Horseracing Act, to preempt any state law prohibiting gambling, or to affect the application of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Expresses the sense of Congress that this Act does not address the legality of certain horse racing activities under federal law.

Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit persons engaged in the business of betting or wagering from knowingly accepting credit, or the proceeds of credit, electronic fund transfers, checks, drafts, or similar financial instruments or the proceeds of any other financial transaction in connection with unlawful Internet gambling (this prohibition is defined by this Act as a "restricted transaction"). Imposes a fine and/or prison term of up to five years for violations.

Directs the Secretary of the Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System to prescribe regulations to identify and block restricted transactions. Grants immunity from civil liability for blocking a restricted transaction or one which is reasonably believed to be a restricted transaction.

Grants U.S. district courts original and exclusive jurisdiction to prevent and restrain restricted transactions and to enter a permanent injunction against individuals convicted of accepting financial instruments for unlawful Internet gambling. Authorizes the Attorney General or any state attorney general to institute proceedings to prevent or restrain a restricted transaction.

(Sec. 803) Calls upon the U.S. government, in deliberations with foreign governments, to: (1) encourage cooperation by foreign governments in identifying whether Internet gambling operations are being used for money laundering, corruption, or other crimes; (2) advance policies that promote international cooperation in enforcing this Act; and (3) encourage the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering to study the extent to which Internet gambling operations are being used for money laundering purposes. 

Directs the Secretary of the Treasury to report to Congress annually on deliberations between the United States and other countries on Internet gambling.

A tidy summary of internet gaming law can be found here.

Lastly, an invaluable resource for anyone attempting to understand gambling law and its enforcement is David G. Schwartz's, Cutting the Wire: Gaming Prohibition and the Internet (Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 2005).  Schwartz, who graciously assisted me during the research for Gaming the Game, is the Director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More commentary on Joe Vito Mastronardo's operation

I should have posted this earlier, but forgot.  Nothing new, really, but here are Dave Schratwieser (Fox 29 TV) and George Anastasia (Inquirer) discussing Mastronardo:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sports Betting Arbitrage (and more)

I was going to post this at a later date, but the Billy Walters appearance on 60 Minutes last night, complete with its references and analogies to stock trading, made me reconsider.  As I explain in Gaming the Game, big-time sports bettors often rely on far more than solid handicapping to succeed.  Often times, this means they obtain inside information (a subtopic I find as fascinating as anything else I have discovered during the research for the new book), and on many other occasions arbitraging is involved.  Though I am an avid sports fan who knows plenty of bettors, I had never heard of sports betting arbitrage before this project.  A common definition of arbitrage is "The purchase of securities on one market for immediate resale on another market in order to profit from a price discrepancy."  Another site similarly explains, "An arbitrage opportunity is the opportunity to buy an asset at a low price then immediately selling it on a different market for a higher price."

Importantly, consequential sports bettors apply these principles to their craft with equal alacrity.  One particular pro gambler highlighted in GTG made an incredible living just by arbitraging, particularly before the advent of the internet (which made real-time odds from multiple sportsbooks widely available, thus negating the benefit certain pro gamblers had who maintained a network of sportsbooks and bookies constantly providing real-time odds changes over the phone).*  As one web site explains re: arbitrage in sports betting, "An arbitrage is available when pricing discrepancies between betting sites allow [bettors] to place bets that will yield a guaranteed risk-free profit." Though there are several forms arbitrage can take, the most common among the pro gamblers I interviewed is often referred to simply as "One Good, Two Markets" and is summed up as follows:

One Good, Two Markets Arbitrage in Sports Gambling

Arbitrage of the "One good, Two markets" variety is quite common in the world of sports gambling. Arbitrage on the sports market exists because different betting agencies often post different odds on the outcome of a game. Suppose the White Sox are playing the Red Sox. Bookmaker Billy is giving even money on the game, so a $100 bet placed on either team will earn you $100 if the team you picked wins. Sportsman Steve has the White Sox at +200, which means if you place a $100 bet with Steve on the White Sox to win, you will get $200 if they win, and $100 if they lose. You can guarantee yourself a profit if you make the following bets:
  1. Place a $300 bet on the Red Sox with Billy at even odds.
  2. Place a $200 bet on the White Sox with Steve at +200.
In baseball there are no ties. So either the Red Sox will win, or the White Sox will win.

Profit if the Red Sox Win 

If the Red Sox win, Billy pays you $300. However since the White Sox lost, you lost your bet with Steve and must pay him $200. Your profit is $100, as that's the difference between what Billy pays you and what you must pay Steve. 

Profit if the White Sox Win

Since the bet you made with Steve on the White Sox was at +200, Steve pays you $400 for your $200 bet. Since the Red Sox lost, you must pay Billy $300. Again your profit is $100, represented by the difference of what Steve pays you and what you must pay Billy. 

There are a number of gamblers who try to exploit differences in odds from bookmaker to bookmaker. It's not quite as profitable as it seems, as the odds do not generally differ as much as they do in this example, plus you have to pay the bookmaker in order to place the bet as that's how they make their money. 

*The pro gambler I am referencing also employed a host of other non-handicapping approaches to sports betting.  Among the numerous resources available in books, articles, etc., the best free and credible source I have located to date that explains the sorts of methods used by pro gamblers like the one I am discussing is here.  Pay particular attention to the section "Betting Blind = Big Money" and its subsections "Find 'Positive Subsets'" and "Learn what a 'point is worth'."  Also see "Beware the Sharp Book" and "Scalps and Middles". 

Brief comments on the Billy Walters 60 Minutes appearance

I don't think the 60 Minutes piece that aired last night broke any ground for those who have remotely followed the remarkable career of Billy Walters.  However, it was probably noteworthy for the majority of viewers who likely know little if anything about white-collar pro gamblers - those who have nothing to do with organized crime and who treat sports betting as a legitimate profession.  This small and exclusive crowd (of which Walters is by far the most consequential) employs sound business practices, including (as referenced last night) recruiting the best workforce possible, which usually means some combination of statisticians, handicappers, and a trusted coterie of movers and runners who must jump at a moment's notice to place (often large) bets at the desired number (betting line/point spread).  These are precisely the types of individuals I have spent two-plus years researching, including a focus on pro gambler/mover Jimmy Battista, who worked with/for several of the world's heavy hitters.  [Re: white-collar pro gamblers, also see, for example, my post re: Joseph "Joe Vito" Mastronardo.]

Other items that rang true in re: the sociology of big-time betting in the 60 Minutes piece were: the use of Don Best (this was the interactive site Billy Walters was viewing during the segment to track dozens of betting line moves in real time), which is a necessity for anyone who wishes to bet seriously; and the manipulation of betting lines by pro gamblers to obtain a more favorite line/point spread.  Regarding this latter point, this is precisely why it is risky to try and copy the bets of sharp bettors like Walters.  That is, even if one was somehow privy to his bets, it is impossible to know if this is the "right" side, or if this is a "head fake" or "phony bet" to get the sucker money to follow and eventually force sportsbooks to change the line to a number Walters or another sharp plans on betting heavily on the other side.  I have embedded an online version of the segment below, but don't know how long this will be available (my apologies for the slightly irregular manner in which this runs in a blog):

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The World's Most Consequential Sports Bettor

In the course of researching the big-time sports betting world, I soon discovered there was unanimous agreement among the dozens of people I interviewed (bookies, runners, movers, sportsbook managers, and pro gamblers) as to who the world's most significant and influential sports bettor is and has been for some time - Billy Walters.  It has been widely reported that Walters is the "Rick Matthews" featured in Michael Konik's The Smart Money (which I have noted before, and which I reference in Gaming the Game).  Anyone interested in the history and sociology of the highest level of sports betting would be wise to start with a look at the man heralded as the head of The Computer Group.

Notwithstanding my quite serious concerns about the ability of 60 Minutes to uphold its reputation for biting and incisive reporting, I am eager to see their look (however superficial) at Walters tomorrow night (Sunday, January 16, 2011).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Robert E. Brennan released from prison/duped investors still seeking funds

Robert Brennan is back in the news this week, following the successful completion of his prison sentence.  According to the AP, Brennan spent months in a Newark halfway house following his time in FCI at Fort Dix.  [Note: ran the same AP article here, which may be of use if deactivates the Inquirer link as is its custom within a few weeks of an article's publication.]

Importantly, the coverage also offers an update on some of the outstanding financial judgments against Brennan.  I have always found this area of securities fraud enforcement fascinating - and equally frustrating - in large part because offenders very rarely compensate their victims in any meaningful way (either because the ill-gotten money has been squandered and/or successfully hidden, and/or because victims are fighting with government agencies who want their own judgments paid, and/or because lawyers fighting on behalf of duped investors are entitled to their own piece of the judgment pie).  In the specific rulings against Brennan, the AP article offers the following updates:

*Regarding a $55 million judgment against Brennan in a class-action suit brought by investors, less than half of that figure has been recovered. 

*Regarding a $75 million judgment against him in a Securities and Exchange Commission case, the SEC has collected $29 million. 

*Regarding a $45 million judgment against him in a New Jersey Bureau of Securities case, the state has been paid approximately $5 million. [Another article regarding this case notes that 27,000 investors/victims are eligible to file for a portion of the $5 million.]