Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sports Gambling: Knowing the Enemy

Check out this fascinating AP article on Michael Franzese, an ex-mobster who is in high demand for advising both pro and college sports teams and players on the game of fixing games:
And it's clear, from the wide eyes and dropped jaws in a George Mason University auditorium on a recent evening, that these kids in their gray hooded sweat shirts are listening intently, drawn in by Franzese's message and mien.

They're hearing Franzese deliver the same, simple points he makes to college athletes and coaches, to NBA rookies and Major League Baseball players and umpires, to professional tennis players and NFL veterans.

Know the dangers of gambling, because, he says, "If you don't have a gambling problem, you know somebody that does. Guaranteed."

Be careful not to get mixed in with the wrong crowd.

Don't wind up being forced into the sorts of situations he put athletes in, where they felt compelled to affect the outcome of a game.

In sum: Do as I say, not as I did. . . .

"I was surprised they would have a guy like that come speak to us," said Folarin Campbell, a guard on George Mason's basketball team. "But what he said makes you think twice about even thinking about gambling."

Why has Major League Baseball hired Franzese to do tours during spring training?

Why did the men's professional tennis tour have him meet with hundreds of players at a tournament this spring?

Why was he invited to speak to the San Diego Chargers and Miami Dolphins?

"You have to know your enemy," said Kevin Hallinan, who recently retired as security chief for Major League Baseball. . . .

Asked whether he fixed games, Franzese replied, "Yes. Did it with a number of sports."

He continued: "This stuff with me is '70s and '80s, and I don't see any reason to bring it up. Everyone wants to hear it, but it can't do me any good. I've got a lot of credibility with the leagues at this point, and I enjoy what I'm doing, and the leagues shouldn't be besmirched because you had a couple of bad apples way back when."

During his speeches, Franzese describes one way it might have happened.

Maybe a cohort mentioned that his daughter was dating a basketball player from Such-and-Such University. Or maybe they ran into a college player they recognized at a club and would get to know him.

Then would come the soft sell.

"Hey, you're a great player. But you're 6-foot-2. You're not going to the pros," is how a pitch might start, Franzese said. "You've got a 2.1 GPA. Where you going when you get out of here?"

Then Franzese lowered his voice as he portrayed what would come next: "Look, shave some points. You're favored to win by 10? Win by six. Be smart. Here's some money. Put it in your pocket. You do this for me a couple of times, you've got $50,000 before you leave school."

Franzese's coda to his re-enactment: "That's real hard for these kids to pass up."

And if someone tried to get out of it?

"You know what my response is?" Franzese said. "'Hey, we made a deal. You're not taking money out of my pocket. We're going the distance. What are you gonna do? Go to your coach?"' . . .

"I've seen guys get their arms and legs broken because they're in debt with a bookmaker, go into the hospital, come out, go across town and gamble with another bookmaker the same ... day they come out of the hospital," he said. "So if that's not an addiction, I don't know what is. ... It crosses all gender lines, all race lines. Nobody is immune to a gambling problem." . . .

"I hope when I'm finished, next time they jump on the Internet, next time they think about placing a bet, my ugly face is going to come up there, and they're going to associate organized crime with the Internet, organized crime with poker," Franzese said. "They're going to remember this night that this mob guy came in and gave them this whole thing, and they're going to associate those two items and maybe they're going to say, 'I shouldn't do this."' . . .

Words of wisdom indeed. . .

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