TrueHoop: Tim Donaghy; Haralabos Voulgaris
Wednesday's conversation with gambler Haralabos Voulgaris prompted a lot of interesting comments and e-mails.
An important one came from Voulgaris himself. He posted a comment on the original post that distinguishes his strong feelings about Tim Donaghy's actions from his more ambivalent thoughts about claims that the NBA fixed games.
I followed up with Voulgaris, based on the conversation he has inspired. He talked at length about his database of NBA games (even providing a screen capture), how he uses statistics to beat the oddsmakers, and much more. Our exchange follows:
I think that Donaghy has very little credibility, this is a guy who has said all along that him wagering on the games didn't effect how he called the games. I am fairly certain that this is false. Henry asked me my opinion on the latest news last night and I responded with my thoughts. I have never really put too much thought into whether or not the NBA as a league fixes games. I have, however, researched the Donaghy scandal quite extensively and am certain that Donaghy did fix games. I'd much rather focus on Donaghy than on the Lakers vs. Kings series.)
Haralabos Voulgaris leads a rare life.
He's one of very few people -- Voulgaris estimates there may be as few as four or five -- who have achieved a high level of success betting full-time on the NBA.
And he does very well at it. "In the last eight years," he explains, "the 2004-2005 season was the only year where I didn't turn a nice profit, and I lost very small."
His approach is intensively evidence-based. He has his own massive database that would be the envy of any stat geek. For instance: Given two line-ups of players on the floor, his database does, he says, a good job of predicting which players will guard each other. The database also tracks the tendencies of individual referees, and factors all that and much more into forecasts. Voulgaris also watches close to 1,000 games a year.
He designed the database as a tool to outwit oddsmakers, and it works for that.
But it's also a fine-tuned machine for researching the claims and career of Tim Donaghy. And having used this database, and his contacts in the sports betting world, Voulgaris says that his confidence in the integrity of the NBA has been shaken, to the point that, despite his big income, he's looking for ways to stop betting altogether.
"The leauge has made a big mistake," he says. "They should have come forward with the Donaghy stories. They should have explained about this game and that game that was fixed. Donaghy has said he may have subconsciously altered calls. It is not easy for me to believe that was all that happened."
Voulgaris finds Donaghy's latest claims about the 2002 playoffs fascinating. "It is a very different thing," he explains, "to say that there were league mandates to call certain things certain ways, and to share information about games, which he is accused of."
"I'm not sure how credible Tim Donaghy is," says Voulgaris. "But his lawyer has good timing. We just had two games with huge free-throw disparities. And the 2002 Sacramento vs. Lakers Game 6 he talked about has long been talked about as one that might have been influenced by referees. In that game, the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. There have only been 19 games since 2003-2004 had instances where one team shot more than 25 free throws in any quarter of a game. That's pretty strong, especially when you throw out any other similar games with a lot of intentional fouling. That's a lot of free throws. Of significance: Six of the 27 free throws the Lakers shot were intentional fouls to extend the game, and 10 were less-valuable Shaq attempts."
Voulgaris explains his understanding of the Donaghy affair to this point:
You have said that the Tim Donaghy scandal shook your confidence a little bit in the integrity of the NBA. How so?
The Donaghy scandal basically made me question whether or not I wanted to continue betting the sport.
For one, after the details emerged I have heard from several people who knew about the games while this was going on.
Towards the end of Donaghy's last season I guess the information was getting passed around quite a bit. I have always insulated myself from discussing the sport with other gamblers, I pretty much go about my work, keep it to myself, and bet the sport, so I was not privy to this information.
I also try to avoid all the "it's fixed" conspiracy talk because its counter-productive to actually handicapping the games. When the news broke, though, I spent an unhealthy amount of time poring over old games Donaghy reffed and seeing how I was affected.
It was rather disturbing and it kind of turned me off to betting.
It made me question whether or not I wanted to continue betting the sport, in fact I am at a point now where I'd actually prefer to work in the sport in some other way rather than betting on it, but I'd have to find a job that paid me as much (or nearly) to make it worth my time and I am not sure if those types of opportunities are available.
What do you think about how the NBA has handled the Tim Donaghy investigation?
From a league perspective they have done a great job sweeping this scandal under the rug, and downplaying it.
I keep on reading how Donaghy "provided information" as though this was the crux of the scandal.
The guy fixed games. He didn't "provide information" he bet on games he was working, and made calls to insure he would win those bets. It's pretty basic stuff but the NBA has somehow turned the focus of the whole investigation away from this and instead focused on the "inside information" angle.
I understand what the league is trying to do, I think in this instance the truth doesn't jibe with the league's best interest. In that respect the League and the Commissioner have done a great job of downplaying the scandal.
Be very interested in your reaction to the retroactive analysis here. Does that jive with your own?
As far as the retroactive analysis in the article you linked to goes, some of the line moves that are mentioned the line moves were due to injuries. After the scandal broke I have done a lot of research regarding what games were likely fixed and which ones weren't. I have also made some contacts with some bookmakers who have given me information on some of the games Donaghy bet -- some of the stuff in that article is just conjecture and speculation, but some of it is accurate.
I can say with a large degree of certainty that this game was one of the more blatant fixes. That Phoenix vs. New York game was a game that I was told was bet by the crew associated with [alleged Donaghy co-conspirator James "Baa Baa"] Batista, it was also a game where Phoenix shot 14 free throws in regulation and New York shot 36.
There aren't that many games in the last five or six years where a team had a 20 point free throw edge. In a sample of 6,373 games I show there being 167 games where the home team shot 20 more free throws than the visiting team, and 78 where the visiting team shot more. I hate trotting out numbers to prove my point because you can cherry-pick whatever statistics you want, but I think if someone with an objective eye goes and watches this game, focusing on Donaghy especially they'll come away thinking that it was pretty clear the Knicks got a huge advantage in the game.
Here are couple of other Tim Donaghy games that may make for some interesting viewing. Miami at New York on February 26, 2007. There was a 39 to eight free throw disparity in that one.
Tim Donaghy refereed a 2003 Knicks at Lakers game that had a 47 to six free throw disparity.
In a 2006 Orlando at Utah game refereed by Tim Donaghy, there were two technicals called against Orlando in the final two seconds of the game.
Most of the information I have about Donaghy is from the 2006-2007 season and its plain as day to me that Donaghy did
change the outcome of the games, I don't see how any rational human being could argue otherwise.
Can you give me more of a sense of what you have learned to gain that conviction? A lot of people have suspected as much, and have gone after that kind of evidence, but have not been able to publicly make that case convincingly. But I suspect they lack your contacts and perspective.
I have a lot of contacts in the sports betting marketplace, including offshore sportsbook owners, people who may have been enlisted to help bet the fixed games etc. The information I have gleaned from them tells me not only that Donaghy was betting on games he officiated, but on which games specifically.
But even if I wasn't privy to this information, Donaghy himself has admitted to betting on games he officiated. The NBA asserts that he was a rogue official with a gambling problem. I don't know many people with gambling problems who wouldn't want to skew the odds in their favor as much as possible. Are we to believe that we have a guy that took all these risks, started betting on games he worked, but also decided he was going to work these games fairly?
It's not even plausible in my opinion. It's not as if Donaghy was known for being someone who worked the games or even really lived his life with equanimity, yet somehow he was able to juggle the act of betting on games he officiated, and also officiate these games fairly?
The whole thing is really absurd, also consider that Donaghy took it a step further and associated himself with two guys that in the gambling industry are widely known as "movers."
A mover is someone that works for a gambling syndicate or individual and helps bet games for them. Why would you enlist the aid of a mover if you weren't looking to bet a lot, or at least connect yourself with someone who was willing to bet a lot of money on the games? If you were somehow able to deny the plausibility of all of the above, then we can fall back on my connections and contacts in the industry.
When I am told that a certain number of NBA games which Donaghy officiated (who, remember, has admitted to betting on games) received an inordinate amount of one-sided action, oh and by the way the side that was heavily bet on won at very high rate, I might begin to suspect that the ref had a hand in fixing some games.
A continuation of this conversation, including more background about Voulgaris, his research, the big win that got him started, things you can learn about coaching from analyzing a lot of games, and gambling generally, after the jump.
(Photo: Joe Giron/ IMPDI)