Las Vegas mindful of games
April 11, 2007 - 9:00 pm
Every controversial tale has a face, and in the latest sports-fixing scheme to be uncovered, Toledo running back Harvey "Scooter" McDougle is the one being put on a public poster by the FBI.
The 22-year-old senior was arrested in Detroit on March 30 and charged with participating in a bribery scheme to influence sports contests. He is accused of taking bribes from a Michigan gambler to affect the outcome of college football games and recruiting other players to do the same.
McDougle is the first domino to fall, but don’t bet on him being the last. It’s rare for FBI wiretap cases to result in only one arrest, and there are signs the story is about to take off.
"Is it over yet? No, it is not," said FBI special agent Dawn Clenney of Detroit. "This is an ongoing FBI investigation. It’s still moving along and we’ll just have to see in what direction the case goes."
It reaches from the campus in Toledo, Ohio, to Detroit to the Caribbean island of Antigua and probably several spots in between. A connection to Las Vegas also exists.
After the arrest of McDougle, several Toledo football games from the 2005 and 2006 seasons have been put under a microscope, and wagering activity on the Rockets’ games has been closely examined by Las Vegas and offshore bookmakers.
When suspicions arose in October 2005, MGM Mirage was the first to act, taking Toledo games off the betting board.
"Anytime we see activity that appears to be in any way outside the bounds of normal activity, we will likely take something off the board," said Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage.
Feldman did not offer specifics, saying the betting activity could have been observed offshore or in Las Vegas, but some games were taken down as a precaution and the Nevada Gaming Control Board was contacted.
Jerry Markling, chief of enforcement for the Control Board, said when a complaint was filed, an investigation was initiated. The case was closed in December 2005.
"In response to the complaint, we did look at a series of wagers that appeared to be suspicious, but in the end our investigation determined none of the wagers made here were illegal and none were regulatory violations," Markling said.
If the Control Board did determine something was unusual, Markling said, the case would be passed on to the FBI or another investigative agency. He said that never happened.
A recent ESPN.com story quoted Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Ken White as saying he alerted Nevada gambling authorities and the NCAA in October 2005 about unusually large amounts of money being wagered on Toledo football games.
White said he watched several of the Rockets’ games and told ESPN.com: "We really couldn’t pinpoint a single player or coach or official. But we knew something was happening there."
White did not return messages from the Review-Journal, but NCAA director of public relations Erik Christianson issued a statement contradicting White’s assertion.
"The NCAA was not informed 18 months ago about sports wagering suspicions related to the University of Toledo. Not only was the NCAA not contacted at that time about the suspicions, but also no report was filed with the NCAA," Christianson said.
"But these types of allegations are precisely why the NCAA continues to take such a strong stance against any sports wagering."
By all accounts, White exaggerated his role in helping to blow the cover off the Toledo point-shaving case.
"I can tell you we did receive a complaint. We don’t have any record of a complaint from Mr. White," the Control Board’s Markling said. "He may have contacted us, but we don’t have a record of that."
According to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, a Michigan gambler provided Toledo athletes with cash and other gifts in exchange for the athletes’ assurances that they would attempt to cover the point spread in certain games.
McDougle, facing a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, allegedly recruited football and basketball players to participate in the scheme.
McDougle was a significant player for the Rockets in 2004, when he rushed for 167 yards in a 35-27 victory over Miami (Ohio) in the Mid-American Conference championship. He suffered a knee injury in that game and rarely saw the field the next two seasons.
McDougle told the FBI he received a car and other gifts from the Michigan gambler. The federal complaint alleged one Toledo player was offered $10,000 to sit out a football game.
Glen Walker, an oddsmaker for the Antigua-based sports book Intertops, said two games from the 2005 season raised a red flag. The first was on Sept. 17, when the Rockets defeated Temple, 42-17. Toledo opened as a 28-point road favorite, but heavy betting moved the line to 24 1/2.
"We had 10 times as much volume written on that game than on a normal game," Walker said.
Ten days later, the Rockets were routed 44-14 at Fresno State. Betting against Toledo moved it from a 10 1/2-point underdog to a 14-point underdog. Rockets starting quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, now with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sat out the game with a concussion.
Walker said "the rumor is" that Gradkowski might have been coerced to sit out the game.
MGM Mirage has a $1,000 betting limit on Mid-American Conference games.
Jimmy Vaccaro, public relations director for Leroy’s sports books, said he does not think Las Vegas books were hit by the Toledo betting scheme.
"I would guess if it was done, it was done on a local level," Vaccaro said. "I don’t think it was widespread."
Las Vegas handicapper Kelso Sturgeon said an offshore bookmaker raised concerns to him about Toledo football games.
"I got a call from an offshore bookmaker and he said, ‘I’m not really getting beat, but I’m getting some very unusual bets on games in the Mid-American Conference,’ " Sturgeon said.
"There certainly were some really strange bets and they were not all on Toledo. But there was a Toledo connection all the way."
TOLEDO: INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Rockets went 9-3 straight up and 4-7 against the spread in the 2005 season, and 5-7 straight up and 5-6 against the spread in the 2006 season. Much of the FBI’s point-shaving investigation is focused on those two seasons. Here are the opening and closing lines on Toledo’s games, and the Rockets’ results against the spread:
|Sept. 1||Western Illinois||NL||NL||62-14||—|
|Sept. 10||Western Michigan||-22.5||-21.5||56-23||W|
|Sept. 17||At Temple||-28||-24.5||42-17||*L|
|Sept. 27||At Fresno State||+10.5||+14||14-44||L|
|Oct. 8||Eastern Michigan||-20.5||-23.5||30-3||W|
|Oct. 15||At Ball State||-19.5||-23.5||34-14||L|
|Oct. 29||At Central Michigan||-10||-8||17-21||L|
|Nov. 4||At Ohio||-12.5||-11||30-21||L|
|Nov. 16||Northern Illinois||-8||-11.5||17-35||L|
|Nov. 22||At Bowling Green||+4||+4||44-41||W|
|Dec. 21||Texas-El Paso||-3.5||-3||45-13||W|
|* Graded against the opening line.|
NOTES — — The Rockets failed to cover five consecutive games during the season, and they were favored in each game. On Sept. 17, there was a major move against Toledo, which opened as a 28-point favorite and closed as a 24-point favorite in a 25-point win at Temple. The game landed in the middle, resulting in a big loss for some bookmakers. On Oct. 8, there was a 3-point line move on Toledo, which closed as a 23-point favorite in a 30-3 victory over Eastern Michigan. The line moved at least 1 points in eight games, and the money moves were correct, based on opening lines, in seven of those games.
|Aug. 31||At Iowa State||+7.5||+9.5||43-45||W|
|Sept. 9||At Western Michigan||-10||-10.5||10-31||L|
|Sept. 23||McNeese State||NL||NL||41-7||—|
|Sept. 30||At Pittsburgh||+11.5||+16.5||3-45||L|
|Oct. 7||Central Michigan||-5.5||-2||20-42||L|
|Oct. 14||At Kent||+8||+6.5||14-40||L|
|Oct. 21||At Eastern Michigan||+1.5||-2.5||13-17||L|
|Nov. 7||At Northern Illinois||+10.5||+13.5||17-13||W|
|Nov. 14||Ball State||-3||-4||17-20||L|
|Nov. 21||Bowling Green||-4||-6.5||31-21||W|
NOTES — On Sept. 30, the line moved five points against Toledo, which closed as a 16-point underdog in a 45-3 loss at Pittsburgh. The following week, the line moved 3 points against the Rockets, who closed as 2-point favorites in a 42-20 loss to Central Michigan. Toledo led 14-0 early in the second quarter and trailed 42-14 early in the fourth. The line moved at least 1 points in seven games, and the money moves were correct in just three of those games.