Sports Law Blog
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Saturday, July 21, 2007
Making the NBA's Gambling Ref Pay

News broke this weekend of an ongoing FBI investigation into NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Donaghy, who seems to be a man of truly exemplary personal character, is accused of betting on NBA games (surely a violation of league rules), associating with low-level mobsters, and may have bet on games which he called as a referee. There are suggestions that he may have called games to enhance his prospects of beating the "spread." Of course, innocent until proven guilty and all that jazz. Donaghy may face serious criminal sanction, and has already resigned his officiating position, but might he also face civil liability? Some possible claimants:
1. Ron Artest, John Green, and the Palace of Auburn Hills. Donaghy was one of the officials calling the infamous "Basketbrawl" game between the Pistons and the Pacers. If he bet on that game (which was a blowout long before fisticuffs erupted), and allowed things to get out of hand in part to protect his wager, he might be on the hook to anyone who has suffered financially as a proximate result of his misconduct. That would include anyone sued as a result of those events.

2. Rasheed Wallace. Donaghy had a famous interaction with Wallace, in which the player questioned his calls in a post-game shouting match. Wallace was suspended, and if Donaghy had bet on that game, might Wallace legitimately recover his lost wages for the suspension period (assuming there were some)? Might he also recover damages associated with the contribution that this incident may have made to the development of his reputation as a bad apple? Perhaps he would have gotten a higher contract without such a label.

3. Bettors on the other side of the spread. In Nevada, at least, legal bettors on NBA games on the other side of the spread might have some sort of claim against Donaghy for violating the state's gambling laws.
Even those who support relaxing bans on players or coaches betting on their own teams can hardly tolerate an official betting on games in which he may play a decisive role.

The only problem? By the time Donaghy gets done (unsuccessfully) fending of the FBI, his official residence will be the poor house.


I was wondering if Mark Cuban could sue the league to get back money he had been fined for questioning calls. Him being fined for questioning refs is the league basically claiming their refs didn't make any bad calls, but now it's been proven that refs weren't always making fair calls. Legally, couldn't he sue to get his money back since they didn't rightfully fine him?

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/23/2007 3:38 PM  

I doubt Cuban would go that far, but even if he did, the fines punish the disruptive behavior not the merit of the call.

Blogger Jimmy H -- 7/23/2007 4:01 PM  

I love the idea here, but from a legal perspective you would have to come up with the evidence to show that this bum was betting on AND altering specific games at issue. Unless someone comes up with bookie records, tapes, or even witnesses, claims like this wouldnt ever be taken seriously. And how many bookies, fellow gamblers, etc are going to be willing to testify or cooperate in a matter like this. Its just awful thinking about how many aspects of a game i dearly love this guy has potentially screwed up, especially the possibility that this guy is the sole reason the Suns players arent getting fitted for rings as we speak. But its highly unlikely that anyone ever manages to concretely prove that he bet on these games, AND changed teh outcomes, AND caused someone damages specifically by doing so, such that a legal recovery would happen.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/23/2007 4:28 PM  

"By the time Donaghy gets done (unsuccessfully) fending of the FBI, his official residence will be the poor house."

By the time the FBI gets done with Donaghy, his official residence will be the Witness Protection Program....or a casket.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/23/2007 6:22 PM  

This is what I wrote on my blog ( If it comes out that Tim Donaghy gambled on the Pistons/Pacers brawl game that he reffed, then Pacers season ticket holders from the 2004-2005 season would seem to have a good suit against Donaghy to get their money back. When Pacers season ticket holders, including my father, bought their tickets before the 2004-2005 season they were buying tickets to see a team that had pushed the Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and was a serious title contender. Now, the season ticket holders would not have a suit against the Pacers if the players on the team did not perform up to these expectations or if the team traded away Jermaine O'Neal or Ron Artest, but this is potentially a very different situation. Other NBA refs have suggested that Donaghy and his crew allowed the situation in Auburn Hills to get out of control. If Donaghy gambled on this game and allowed the fight to happen to influence the spread then his criminal actions directly lead to Artest, O'Neal, and Stephen Jackson's lengthy suspensions and the wash that was the Pacers 2004-2005 season. Up until the Brawl, the Pacers were arguably the best team in the NBA and had blown out the defending-champion Pistons at the Palace. This is the team that the season ticket holders thought they were going to see all year. They were going to watch a team featuring a perennial All-Star (O'Neal) and a legitimate Top 10 all-around player (Artest) but what they got was a team that had to rely on career backups and 10-day contracts. If Donaghy had a stake in the game, it seems like Pacers season ticket holders would have a suit against him to recover their money. Once again, there is no evidence leaking Donaghy to gambling on this particular game and this is just a hypothetical but it's not an unlikely one.

Blogger Big C -- 7/23/2007 11:14 PM  

Why don't you Pacers season-ticket holders sue Artest and Jackson? They're the ones who messed up that season.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/24/2007 4:09 AM  

Artest and Jackson definitely deserve much of the blame but if Donaghy did gamble on that game then you have to look at it in a different light.

Blogger Big C -- 7/24/2007 10:55 AM  

Stern's reaction to this type of recurring problem should be the focus of any investigation. We know he kept donaghy out of 2005 playoffs but reinstated him for critical game three of his beloved Spurs. Stern has always just fined fined NBA personnel who criticized him. Now it is time for Stern to resign, in disgrace.

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Blogger Ryan Yatol -- 8/22/2007 4:42 PM  

I also doubt that cuban would go that far...

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