A sensational story is created by a perfect storm, and that’s the case here.
Organized crime collides with the FBI, gambling is the theme and there is a Las Vegas-New York City connection. The movie version could star Al Pacino and a character named "Lefty."
Unfortunately for Mike Colbert, he’s right in the eye of the storm, in a story accompanied with a mug shot of the high-profile sports book director.
Colbert, the 32-year-old vice president of Cantor Gaming sports books, was arrested at his home Wednesday morning and indicted with 24 others on charges of operating an illegal sports betting enterprise that profited by more than $50 million over 18 months, according to law enforcement authorities.
The report was deemed important enough that it was prominently placed on the ESPN.com front page Thursday.
"I think this is a very unique story, to a degree in this age of instant media that we’ve never seen before coming out of a sports book in Las Vegas," said Micah Roberts, a writer for The Linemakers on SportingNews.com and a former sports book director. "The masses want more information and will follow intensely, awaiting the next part of the story to unfold."
There is more to the sordid story, and it might involve names so far unmentioned. But wait and try to avoid passing judgment.
A line buried in the news release from the Queens County (N.Y.) District Attorney read: "It should be noted that an indictment is merely an accusation and that defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty."
Yet most people see the characters in a story such as this as guilty until proven innocent.
It will be difficult for Colbert to clear his name and reclaim his career, and that’s the most disappointing aspect of the story, personally.
Many of us in the media have worked with Colbert on several projects. He has been quoted on these pages several times, has become well-known through local radio shows and has been featured by ESPN and several other national media outlets. He was rising in his profession.
But if he made a mistake, he’ll pay for it. It is alleged he was an agent in an illegal sports betting operation involving the offshore website PinnacleSports.com. He faces eight counts of conspiracy, money laundering and enterprise corruption.
Colbert is scheduled to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court on Monday, a week after he was on my radio show recapping NFL wagering results from the weekend.
This issue is being labeled a black eye for sports betting in Nevada and a setback for New Jersey’s pursuit of legalized sports wagering. I don’t believe either statement is true. It’s a mushroom cloud this week, but this storm will pass.
Just as the Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal passed. Just as the NBA officiating scandal passed. Just as assorted boxing and football betting conspiracies passed.
If clueless politicians were wise enough to legalize sports betting nationwide – and it should be regulated, taxed and used to help cut into the monstrous national debt – this would not be a story at all. But it’s not legal in most places outside of this state, and so the tale has become bigger than it is in reality.
"The media attention also shows how in-tune and fascinated people are with betting," Roberts said. "This falls in line with the national media covering bad calls like the Green Bay-Seattle game on a Monday night, all from an angle of affecting the point spread – nationally, not just Nevada. That stuff has been huge across the nation, but it wouldn’t be reported if there wasn’t an interest, and gambling topics get a reaction.
"What I would hope that eventually comes out of all the exposure is that a lot of questions are asked within other states about why there is such a high demand for betting sports, and is that a type of business that might be a good source of revenue.
"Just like repealing prohibition did to the bootlegging business and lotteries did to the numbers running, most underground betting operations or agents will be a thing of the past if sports betting is legalized nationally."
Cantor Gaming, which operates seven sports books in Las Vegas and caters to the biggest bettors in the industry, could be in the clear. Colbert’s future is cloudy.
The authorities investigated, nabbed the alleged criminals and patted themselves on the back for "an important step in policing illegal sports wagering," as one FBI assistant director said.
It’s a sensational story, for sure. We’re just not sure if it’s really that important.
I would rather be writing about the Notre Dame-Oklahoma game.
But the business of sports betting is not all fun and games.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS – My hot streak has turned lukewarm. After a 3-2 week, I’m 21-6 the past five weeks in college football. Here are five plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
MINNESOTA (+3) over Purdue; COLORADO STATE (-6) over Hawaii; UTAH (-1) over California; PENN STATE (Pick) over Ohio State; Notre Dame (+11½) over OKLAHOMA.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.