Is the Mafia in the Game Rigging Business?

Twenty years ago, former Arizona State guard Stevin “Hedake” Smith wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated detailing how easily college athletes can be drawn into fixing games. He explained that “poor, naïve teenagers plus rich, greedy gamblers equal disaster.” Today, match-fixing and point-shaving scandals remain a major issue for the NCAA for exactly this reason.

If you approached Kevin Durant and offered him $20,000 to miss a couple shots in his next game, I would be willing to bet that he would not think twice without saying no. I’m sure KD is more than comfortable being the highest paid athlete in the NBA. If you approached the right college athlete who is looking for some cash, however, the story might be different. This rung true for former Auburn point guard Varez Ward, who was arrested in June 2013 on allegations that he attempted to fix a game between the Tigers and Arkansas.

The bad news is that the game rigging business has a re-emerging player— the Mafia. The worse news is that this big-time player is going to continue to make the match-fixing and point-shaving issue even worse.

On October 3rd, The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York released a series of indictments against various members of the Colombo Family, a notorious crime family that is known to dominate organized crime in New York City. Benjamin Bifalco, a 25-year-old associate of the Colombo Family, was charged with attempting to fix a Division I college basketball game in December of 2018.

Per the indictment, Bifalco “knowingly and intentionally attempt[ed] to. . . influence by bribery a sporting contest” by offering players on an undisclosed team “thousands of dollars to intentionally lose [a] game.” The “favored team” was to cover the spread and win by “more than the predetermined margin of points.” Bifalco’s plan also included Joseph Amato Jr., the son of an alleged Colombo captain. Bifalco wanted Amato Jr. to place “big money” on the game.

Bifalco was officially charged with violating 18 U.S.C. Section 224(a), which makes it unlawful to influence a sporting contest “in any way, [including] bribery[.]”

The NCAA released a statement warning that “game-manipulation threats and risks are ever-present.” The NCAA also promised that it is “monitoring the situation” and has plans to further investigate the matter.

The NCAA better be monitoring the situation! If it doesn’t get this under control, the integrity of the game could be tarnished forever.

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