LAS VEGAS In September 2005, a stranger from the Midwest walked into an MGM Mirage casino here and bet around $20,000 against the University of Toledo football team. Casino officials grew suspicious: It was an unusually big wager for a school like Toledo, which was heavily favored. They wondered whether the bettor had inside information that the game was rigged.
So they called a company named Las Vegas Sports Consultants Inc. LVSC's core business is advising casinos on upcoming sports events providing what gamblers call betting lines or point spreads. That means the company has a trove of sports statistics and casino contacts. LVSC, too, became skeptical as it checked the movement of betting lines and watched Toledo game tapes. That fall, MGM Mirage and LVSC officials reported their suspicions to Nevada gambling regulators.
In March 2007, the Vegas insiders received a vindication of sorts. The Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that it had uncovered a conspiracy between a gambler and a Toledo football player to influence the outcome of the Ohio school's basketball and football games.
These days, LVSC is working for college sports' governing body, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, to help flag suspicious activity. LVSC is also working with the National Football League and the National Hockey League, and has consulted with the National Basketball Association. The company has a deal with the NCAA's Big 12 conference, as well, to provide detailed reports on every one of its schools' football and men's basketball games.
"It's a way for them, I think, to be able to tell their athletes: 'There's someone in Vegas watching you,"' says Kenny White, the chief operating officer of LVSC.
Such cooperation marks a huge turnaround from the days when organized sports didn't want anything to do with Sin City. Leagues have argued that gambling even the legalized sports gambling of Las Vegas could create an incentive for crooked bettors to try to influence game scores. No major professional sport has a Las Vegas-based franchise. College and pro leagues have lobbied to keep legalized gambling from expanding beyond Nevada. The NFL prohibits NBC from promoting its show "Las Vegas" during league broadcasts.
For sports leagues, working with Vegas is "like going to bed with your enemy," said Wayne Winston, an Indiana University business professor who studies decision making and provides statistical analysis of games to the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.
A recent spate of sports scandals has started to change that attitude. In August, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to felony charges of gambling and wire fraud in Brooklyn federal court, admitting he bet on games he officiated. A former assistant coach of the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes pleaded guilty in New Jersey state court in May to gambling-related charges that emerged last year.
The NHL and NCAA acknowledge their relationship with LVSC but declined to elaborate. The NBA says it has had consultants in Las Vegas for 10 years. The NFL says it, too, has maintained some relationships with bookmakers, hotels and law enforcement in Las Vegas for many years.
Such connections seemed out of the question for decades. In 1989, Major League Baseball, under commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, barred retired star Pete Rose from the game for life for gambling. Fay Vincent, who served under Mr. Giamatti before succeeding him as commissioner, says baseball received no feedback from Vegas during his years with the league.
"I can't quite imagine what they would've been telling us that we would've been interested in," says Mr. Vincent, whose term ran from late 1989 to 1992.
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