Busted: Florida's massive pee-wee football gambling ring
Nine men are arrested for allegedly exploiting young players for their own financial gain
Professional football is an incredibly competitive and lucrative sport, but in Florida, the pressure isn't just restricted to the pros. This week, the Sheriff's Office in Broward County, Fla., arrested nine men and charged them with felony bookmaking for betting on games within one youth league, sometimes wagering as much as $100,000 on a single game. While the players were reportedly blissfully unaware of the bets placed upon them, many of the accused men were coaches or otherwise affiliated with teams in the league. Here, a guide to this sad scandal:
First of all, how big is this football league? It has 22 clubs and 6,000 players who range in age from 5- to 15-years-old. Its stated mission is to "benefit children" by teaching them wholesome values. According to CBS News, many of the players come from impoverished neighborhoods.
How did the Sheriff's Office find out about the ring?It all started in May of 2011 when ESPN produced a series about youth football gambling in South Florida. The network tipped off the Broward Sheriff's Office with footage showing spectators exchanging money in the stands during major plays at youth games. "They brought us footage and asked us about it," Dani Moschella, spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff's Office, told ABC News. "Until that time, we didn't know it was happening." The Sheriff's Office then began what would become an 18-month-long investigation, code-named "Operation Dirty Play," that would eventually uncover the alleged gambling ring.
How did the ring allegedly function? Two local businesses served as fronts for the operation, a barber shop and a sports shop. The group's alleged ringleader, Brandon Bivins (aka 'Coach B'), helped run both while serving as president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes team. "If you walked through the back door [of Red Carpet Kutz], it was a bustling, very active gambling house with three windows," Moschella says. According to investigators, coaches met before games and set point spreads, "but it is not believed that the games were rigged or that the coaches encouraged players to perform a certain way," reports CBS News. Bets ranged from $20,000 for a typical game to up to $100,000 for the league's championship game.
How will the gamblers be punished? Six of the nine men arrested are ex-convicts with histories of drug use, assault, or theft. If they are found guilty of illegally gambling, each could face up to five years in prison. Right now, all nine men are being held on bonds ranging from $15,000 to $50,000.
Why are ex-convicts coaching football? While some city officials recently improved their background check methods, each city has very different laws regarding this issue. The investigation definitely "highlights the lax background check standards for youth coaches," says Emily Attwood at Athletic Business.