September 30, 2011
Gambling Addict Tim Donaghy Talks Addictions, Sports & Mistakes
Former Professional basketball referee from the National Basketball Association (NBA) Tim Donaghy talked to the crowd at Idea Festival who showed up in Kentucky to hear lessons learned and insights from some of the country's top thinkers and leaders, authors, visionaries and politicians.
He obviously focused on his addiction to gambling and how his decisions led to his conviction and prison sentence for game betting. This addiction not only destroyed his career, but nearly destroyed him and those closest to him.
Many of you know the story. Donaghy resigned from the league in July 2007 before reports of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for allegations that he bet on games that he officiated during his last two seasons and that he made calls affecting the point spread in those games.
He shared he started gambling, and how it moved from dabbling to "over his head." Donaghy says, “three hours on game night were intoxicating and anything.” It was about the thrill and the bet for him, something he looked forward to more than anything else in his life.
Although he started gambling at casinos, it soon moved to sports gambling. He had a good idea of who would win because of his knowledge of the relationship between referees, owners and players among others. When asked by someone, he publicly told us that he passed information on for about 100 games over a three year period.
“The down time between NDA games were long and boring, he says, “My answer was gambling.” Donaghy started out with card games and then it moved into something bigger than himself. Even though he knew he was jeopardizing his career but he couldn’t stop because the high was too high.
As he was sitting in a room waiting for his lawyers, he recalls seeing a white board with a list of the estimated sentence times for money laundering, racketeering and gambling. A frightening moment, he says. He was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison in 2008. There, he was beaten up and had his head shaven in order to fit in with the gang who was protecting him at the time. (it was either that or a slow needle process to get a tattoo since there were clearly no tattoo guns in prison).
Since he got out of prison in 2009, he wrote a book and is traveling around the country sharing his story. His major goal of speaking is to get people to think about their decisions and how to avoid crossing the line where there’s potentially no return.
As a result of the betting scandal, Stern revised the guidelines on the behavior of NBA referees during the Board of Governors' meeting in 2007. Despite the labor agreement for referees, which restricted them from participating in almost all forms of gambling, it was revealed that about half of the NBA's officials had made bets in casinos, albeit not with sportsbooks. In addition, all referees had admitted to engaging in some form of gambling.
As a result, there were several other referee-related rule changes made: the announcement of referees of a game was moved from 90 minutes before tip-off to the morning of the game, to reduce the value of the information to gamblers; referees received more in-season training and counseling on gambling; more thorough background checks were carried out; the league declared its intention to analyze the statistical relationship between NBA games and referees' gambling patterns for those games; and the interactions between referees and NBA teams were made easier and more formal.
While Donaghy agrees that some of the changes that the NBA have been positive, he doesn’t think they’ve done as much as they could.
He's done a lot of therapy since he got out of prison and says he’s been gambling-free for four years. “I won’t place another bet again,” he says. “When you have four daughters, it’s enough to ensure you never gamble again.”
When a student asked him a question about his goals moving forward, he responded that it was largely to educate people and to encourage others to think about their decisions and how an addiction can not only end your career and land you in prison but could lose your loved ones as well.
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