Although New York allows its residents to legally wager upon sporting events at casinos, some residents in the state might still make poor choices in regards to illegal gambling. That doesn’t always include game fixing schemes, but in some instances, it unfortunately does.
A federal court announced indictments against a New York man for sports bribery in October of last year. Last Thursday, he pleaded guilty to the charge.
Few details on this game-fixing scheme available
Benjamin Bifalco, 25, of Staten Island, offered an unnamed college basketball player an undisclosed sum of money to ensure his team lost a game by more than the point spread. Investigators have not disclosed which teams were involved in the attempt.
According to Bifalco’s testimony, the player refused to take the money. Investigators’ primary evidence against Bifalco was a recorded phone conversation in which he discussed the bribe with a member of the Colombo crime family.
It was an investigation into that criminal network that tipped the feds off to the scheme. Although Bifalco’s guilty plea carries a penalty of up to five years, prosecutors intend to recommend six months at the most.
The court will sentence Bifalco in June. There are more immediate lessons from this story, however.
What New York bettors can learn from this story
Bifalco’s story is representative of a rare but real situation in sports betting. Whenever there’s money at stake, the temptation exists to fix the odds.
As legal wagering becomes more prevalent around the country, the likelihood of getting away with attempts to influence contests decreases. With legalization comes increased monitoring for these activities.
Not only should that act as a deterrent to those who consider such activities, but it should instill confidence in those using legal channels, as well. The biggest threat to the integrity of college sports isn’t rare attempts to fix games.
As a matter of fact, the NCAA’s policy on gambling and errant state laws are much bigger threats. The attempts to keep such wagering on the black market are dangerous.
What the NCAA and state governments can learn
This story should inspire the NCAA to reverse its course of pretending its perceived problem of gambling on contests between its members will go away if it ignores it. A great example of this philosophy is its recent application to trademark the phrase “DON’T BET ON IT.”
Instead of spending its resources to educate players about gambling on the contests they take part in, the NCAA has opted to pretend that wagering on those games is a fringe activity that it can discourage with simple messaging. Unfortunately, it’s the athletes who bear the cost of this bad policy.
That cost goes beyond attempts to fix games. It also includes athletes having to deal with disgruntled fans who lose their wagers because of athletes’ in-game actions.
State governments can compound this issue by carving betting on college sports out of legal frameworks. In Illinois, for example, it remains illegal to place bets on college games that involve in-state teams.
Relegating those games to the black market enhances the chances of athletes facing situations similar to that which the unnamed basketball player dealt with when Bifalco approached him. While his decision to pass is commendable, it may not always be the case.
College sports must be regulated at the same level as others. The integrity of such games depends upon it.