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Top 5 Betting Scandals Involving Athletes

by Scott Kacsmar
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The Shohei Ohtani betting scandal in MLB is just the latest in a long line of betting scandals involving athletes in sports. We have seen it everywhere from the NFL to college basketball to even rugby and cricket. 

The rise of regulated sports betting in America could lead to more major scandals in the near future. But we wanted to look back at the top 5 betting scandals involving athletes, one of which happened over 100 years ago.

5 Calvin Ridley (NFL)

Calvin Ridley

When PASPA was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018, that led to legal sports betting in many states. Soon, professional sports leagues would start doing advertising deals with sportsbooks such as FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM.

It was only a matter of time before a well-known athlete was involved in a major betting scandal in this new frontier of legal betting that is still prohibited for players in the NFL.

Atlanta wide receiver Calvin Ridley ended up being that player. In 2020, Ridley had a fantastic season for the Falcons with 1,374 yards and 9 touchdowns. It looked like he was ready to take over for Julio Jones as the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta.

But in 2021, Ridley cited a personal matter for why he did not travel with the team for a Week 5 game in London. Ridley returned to the field the following week and caught a touchdown in his team’s win over Miami.

But later that week, Ridley announced on Twitter that he would be stepping away from playing football due to mental health reasons. While acknowledging one’s mental health has become a positive development in society, the timing of this still felt off for Ridley.

True to his word, he did not play the rest of the season, missing a total of 12 games without any injuries. Then on March 7, 2022, the NFL announced that Ridley would be suspended for at least the entire 2022 season for betting on games, forfeiting his $11.1 million salary in the process.

It was discovered that Ridley was placing parlays with legs from 3-to-8 games, including Atlanta games, while he was no longer actively playing. According to later reports, Ridley bet about a total of $1,500 in late November, and he included the Falcons beating the Jaguars, which they did, as a leg on his parlay.

But since betting on NFL games from active players is illegal, he was suspended for the entire next season. During the 2022 season when he was serving his suspension, Ridley was traded to the Jaguars. He was reinstated for the season and played the year for Jacksonville before moving on in free agency to the Titans in 2024, signing a 4-year deal worth $92 million.

It looks like Ridley will be fine, and he is one of several players to already face a year-long suspension for gambling in this new era. He just happens to be the biggest name so far to get busted.

He won’t be the last.

4 Art Schlichter (NFL)

Art Schlichter

There have been bigger names to get busted for gambling in NFL history. Hall of Famers Paul Hornung and Alex Karras were both banned in the 1960s for a gambling scandal. Both were soon reinstated as well.

But if you want a crazy story of an NFL player who saw betting ruin his life, you have to consider the story of quarterback Art Schlichter. A talented prospect in high school and college, Schlichter started a gambling habit in high school when he was betting on horses at the track.

When he went to Ohio State to play quarterback, his appearances at the track were not slowing down, and he started betting on sports by his junior year. He lost thousands of dollars betting on sports, both professional and college. His appearances at the track were overlooked by the NCAA since he was seen with Earle Bruce, the future head coach of Ohio State’s football team.

Despite already owing bookies thousands of dollars, Schlichter was the No. 4 pick by the Colts in the 1982 NFL draft. He only threw 37 passes as a backup in his rookie season, but his gambling was already getting the best of him. He allegedly blew his $350,000 signing bonus by midseason, and this was a strike-shortened season that only lasted 9 games.

That strike did Schlichter in as he lost $20,000 on college football bets. One loss led to more as he kept doubling down, losing almost $500,000 on basketball bets, and by the end of the strike, he was at least $700,000 in debt from gambling.

The bookies were ready to collect by any means necessary, even if it meant physical assault or exposing Schlichter to the NFL. He tried getting ahead of them by going to the FBI in March 1983 where he gave information to get them arrested on federal charges. But by letting the NFL know of his activity too, Schlichter became the first player suspended for gambling since Hornung and Karras.

The End of Schlichter’s Football Career

Schlichter was suspended for the entire 1983 season. He came back in 1984, started 5 games, played lousy, and was still gambling the whole time. By 1985, the Colts had enough and released him. He never played another game in the NFL, finishing his career 0-6 as a starter with 3 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Schlichter was arrested in New York City in 1987 for his involvement in a multi-million-dollar sports betting ring. He pleaded guilty and received probation. But this infraction led to him getting denied a chance to sign in Cincinnati with the Bengals as NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle vetoed the deal.

Trying to revive his football career, Schlichter joined the CFL and eventually the Arena Football League (AFL) where he found success with his deep passes, winning an MVP award and a championship in the AFL. But instead of continuing his success there, Schlichter retired from football to avoid facing more discipline for his continued gambling.

The Gambling Addiction

Schlichter’s gambling addiction was as bad as any athlete in history. He would write bad checks to casinos and hope to win the money back to pay them, but he frequently lost. He moved to Las Vegas in 1989, which was a huge mistake for a gambling addict. He ended up selling his wife’s wedding ring at one point.

His habit of passing bad checks ended up landing him in prison multiple times. He says he hit rock bottom in 2004 when he was caught gambling in prison and placed in solitary confinement.

In 2011, Schlichter was arrested and charged for over a million dollars in fraud and theft. He served a 10-year prison sentence and was released in 2021. But in 2022, he overdosed on cocaine and needed to be revived by Narcan. Even as recently as February 2024, Schlichter was again found with cocaine and other drug paraphernalia. He could face another 11 months in prison for that.

After a series of head injuries suffered during his football career, Schlichter has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and dementia, a tragic combo. There is also suspicion he has CTE, which might be fueling his impulsive gambling behavior.

At 63 years old, you can only hope Schlichter finds peace in the little time he has left.

3 1978-79 Boston College Basketball Point-Shaving Scandal (NCAAB)

Boston College Basketball Team

The mob and college basketball players teaming up for a point-shaving scandal? It was bound to happen.

In the summer of 1978, Rocco Perla came up with a scheme with his brother Anthony in Pittsburgh. A couple of small-time gamblers thought they could leverage a connection on the Boston College basketball team as Rocco was high school friends with Rick Kuhn, a key player on the Eagles.

The plan was for Kuhn to play a certain way in the game to manipulate the point spread. If he was successful, he’d get a bonus in the neighborhood of $2,500. Kuhn recruited teammate Jim Sweeney for the scheme too.

Mob Connections

Thinking they struck gold, the Perla brothers crafted a betting syndicate to maximize their potential profits by having more people bet on these games. They consulted a local friend named Paul Mazzei, who got them in connection with Henry Hill and James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, who belonged to the Lucchese crime family.

If those names sound very familiar, it’s because they are the characters played by Ray Liotta (Hill) and Robert De Niro (Burke) in Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster classic. De Niro played Jimmy Conway, who was heavily inspired by Burke.

The money and the desired point-spread result for the players would originate from Burke through Hill, Mazzei, and the Perla brothers. Hill even flew out to Boston at one point to talk to players who were interested in joining in on the scheme, which focused on point shaving in wins, but they were also content with losing big in games the Eagles were expected to lose, so the betting syndicate could bet on the opponent to cover the spread.

Only certain games on the schedule were selected for this scheme. Games where Boston College thought they could manipulate the spread. They got their test run on December 6, 1978 against Providence, and it went poorly. The Eagles were a 6 or 7-point favorite, but they got up big early and won by 19 when they wanted to win by fewer points than the spread.

But it only took one game before the schemers got together to recruit more players to make sure they’d get better results. Leading scorer Ernie Cobb was allegedly asked to participate by Kuhn, but it has never been proven if he did. Burke’s warning message to the players to comply was “you can’t play basketball with broken hands.”

Unraveling of the Scheme

After posting a 4-1-2 spread record with the revamped scheme, the syndicate went big on the rivalry game against Holy Cross, a 7-point favorite. But Holy Cross only won by 2 points, so the Eagles lost the game and blew the spread for their mob associates. Burke lost $50,000 on that game alone, so that was enough for him with these college kids.

The Eagles finished 22-9 that season. Hill made over $100,000 on the games, and bigger bettors made up to $250,000 on the scheme.

But the scheme was uncovered in 1980 after an unrelated matter. Remember the Lufthansa heist in Goodfellas when millions of dollars were stolen at JFK airport? Hill was implicated in that heist and arrested for drug trafficking charges. After authorities noticed his trips to Boston, he spilled the beans on the point-shaving scandal as he was looking for immunity and protection.

The trial lasted a month, and every conspirator was guilty of conspiracy, conspiracy to commit sports bribery, and interstate travel with intent to commit bribery. Burke received 12 years in prison. Kuhn was sentenced to 10 years, but it was reduced to 28 months. Mazzi and Anthony Perla each got 10 years, and Rocco Perla got 4 years in prison.

The story was made into an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called Playing for the Mob in 2014.

2 Pete Rose (MLB)

Pete Rose

Pete Rose is still Major League Baseball’s all-time leader in hits and games played, but you won’t find him in the Baseball Hall of Fame anytime soon because of his betting scandal.

Rose was a 17-time All-Star, 3-time champion, and 3-time batting average leader in his career. But it was in the later stages of his career where he reportedly took up gambling on games his Reds played while he was a player and manager in the late 1980s.

Rose was first investigated for gambling in February 1989. He denied ever betting on baseball, but he did admit to betting on football, basketball, and horse racing. The MLB hired a lawyer named John M. Dowd to investigate, and his Dowd Report found that Rose did bet on games the Reds played while he was playing and managing the team.

According to the report, Rose bet on 52 games involving the Reds in the 1987 season alone. He often bet thousands of dollars a day, and there were certain pitchers he usually avoided betting on when his team played.

Upon the release of this report, Rose eventually agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball, giving up his managerial role immediately. But he did not know that this would exclude him from making the Hall of Fame, somewhere he was clearly going to wind up after retirement given his career achievements.

Rose retained his innocence with betting on Cincinnati games until his autobiography in 2004 when he finally admitted to betting on the Reds. But he insists he always bet on his team to win the game, and there has never been clear evidence that he bet against his team.

But betting is illegal either way for MLB employees, so Rose was banned and has been unsuccessful in getting that lifted to this day. At 83 years old, he likely will never see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame, and he has no one to blame but himself for the gambling.

1 Black Sox Scandal (MLB)

Black Sox

Could you imagine 8 players on a team throwing the World Series in today’s world? This happened in the 1919 World Series when 8 members of the Chicago White Sox were alleged to have lost the series to the Cincinnati Reds on purpose in exchange for money from a gambling syndicate led by crime boss Arnold Rothstein, who was memorably portrayed by Michael Stuhlbarg in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.

In this era, owners had all the power and the players had no bargaining power without a union or free agency. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey low-balled the players and was not well-liked.

In fact, that dislike of Comiskey was the only thing the clubhouse had in common as the White Sox were staunchly divided by 2 cliques at the time, the straitlace players and those who resented them, and they rarely spoke to each other on or off the field.

The Conspiracy Unfolds

On September 18, 1919, the conspiracy to cheat took off. White Sox player Chick Gandil got it started by meeting Boston bookmaker Joe “Sport” Sullivan at a hotel. They discussed the plan to throw the series against the Reds for $80,000, a significant amount of money in 1919.

Two days later, a large group of White Sox players joined another meeting about the scheme. Shoeless Joe Jackson was a star player who did not attend the meeting, but he has been linked to the conspiracy, and his actual involvement remains debated to this day.

But throwing the series was made easier when straitlace pitcher Red Faber came down with the flu and couldn’t pitch. Instead of getting 2 games from their ace pitcher, the White Sox got 2 games from conspirators (Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams).

Word must have gotten around, because even before Game 1 of the World Series, there were rumors the series was already fixed. A pitch by Cicotte that hit a batter was a planned signal to show that the fix was in. There was also a botched double play that some felt was suspicious and not on the level.

The Fallout

This was a best-of-9 series back then. With some players getting angry over a lack of payments, the conspirators tried to double-cross the gamblers by winning Games 6 and 7. But before Game 8, gamblers threatened the players and their families if they won again. The White Sox lost Game 8 and the series.

The conspiring players received at least $5,000 each for losing the series. Gandil received $35,000, which would be over $600,000 in today’s money.

Many rumors were swirling that this series was fixed. A grand jury investigation started in 1920. It did not take long for Cicotte to confess to his participation in the scheme. The grand jury concluded that 8 players and 5 gamblers were involved in the Black Sox Scandal. Indictments included 9 counts of conspiracy to defraud.

At trial, Arnold Rothstein’s involvement in the scheme was brought to light. But after the jury deliberated for 3 hours, they returned a verdict of not guilty for the players. Despite this acquittal, baseball’s newly appointed commissioner banned all 8 players from professional baseball, and none of them are allowed to make the Hall of Fame to this day.

The 1988 film Eight Men Out is a great baseball movie about this Black Sox Scandal, which is still the most shocking sports betting scandal involving athletes to this day.

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Scott Kacsmar
NFL football picks are Scott Kacsmar's expertise, serving as his main focus. He has contributed to various sports websites and blogs, such as NBC Sports, ESPN Insider, FiveThirtyEight, and, JoeWager. Originating from Pittsburgh, Scott maintains a love-hate connection with the Pirates.

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