The NBA hopes its gambling scandal nightmare ended when former referee Tim Donaghy was sentenced Tuesday to 15 months for taking money from gamblers for inside dope.
Donaghy claimed gambling and game manipulation is far more pervasive in the NBA, but his claims were dismissed by the league. David Stern identified Donaghy early in the scandal as a “rogue referee.”
Mike Osborne might bet otherwise - if he could bet.
Osborne is the executive director of Harbour Pointe in Baltimore, the oldest and foremost residential treatment facility in the United States solely dedicated to compulsive gambling addiction. He is a recovered gambling addict who, betting on everything from the Little League World Series to the Super Bowl, built up a debt of $500,000 to offshore bookies.
He believes Donaghy is the alarm no one wants to hear - the Jose Canseco of gambling.
“I think [Donaghy] will be vindicated just like Jose Canseco was with steroids,” Osborne said. “Eventually, we will see that he was not far off base. It’s just well hidden.”
He knows gambling like this doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are few, if any, isolated incidents. And for pro sports leagues that don’t want to be proactive instead of reactive, it will be a case of pay me now or pay me later.
Osborne believes alarms are going off all over sports - from the Donaghy scandal to the Baltimore Orioles scout who recently was fired in a gambling investigation by Major League Baseball to the reports of game fixing in tennis. And the proper response, Osborne believes, for the NBA and the business of sports is to wake up and recognize the addiction of gambling - not just the crime.
“It is coming to the surface,” Osborne said. “For some reason, the idea of gambling as an addiction has not been recognized by many publicly [though it has by the American Psychiatric Association], and people don’t want to look at it like a drug or alcohol problem. They don’t want to deal with the idea of gambling as an addiction. It is hard for people to understand how someone can get high when you are not putting a substance in your body.”
Osborne is not saying there shouldn’t be criminal consequences if laws are broken in connection with gambling like with Donaghy, who was convicted of conspiracy to engage in wire fraud and transmitting betting information through interstate commerce.
“In Tim’s case, of course he deserved a consequence,” Osborne said. “But where he is going now won’t help him rehabilitate. He could still be a compulsive gambler coming out of jail.
“The criminal issue comes with the addiction,” Osborne said. “The drug of choice in gambling is money. And when you start to dig a whole for yourself in these sports, you often find yourself dealing with the mob and loan sharks with the fear of threats on you and your family. Sports figures could find themselves compromised in more ways than one. For them to fix a game and have a debt washed away is an easy way out.”
The addict needs a way out other than the self-destruction that could come with fixing a game - not enabling the addict but offering support for those who want help.
“Society needs to look at it as an illness and an addiction,” Osborne said. “Look at all the chances Darryl Strawberry got with his drug addiction. You don’t get that with gambling. Someone comes forward, and they are finished, banned. No one is out there offering help to them.”
Of course, Osborne knows he sounds like the spoil sport at a very big party. Gambling these days is the tax of choice among politicians, who prefer it because you give them your money instead of them taking it from you.
Maryland - which has 78 different scratch-off lottery tickets - will have slot machines on the November ballot. If that is approved, then Delaware likely will move forward with legalizing sports betting to one-up its neighbor and on and on. Then, of course, there is the continued poker boom.
Business these days is good at Harbour Pointe.
Osborne is not advocating prohibitions on gambling. He knows you can’t stop people from indulging their vices. But he hopes for a better understanding by sports commissioners and elected officials of the consequences of gambling as the new national pastime.
“The bottom line is that we have become a society that can’t get enough of it,” he said. “And I am not opposed to gambling. But we have to understand that there will be some adverse effects from it. We can’t bury our heads in the sand.”
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