Tim Donaghy Will Give You Gambling Advice for a Price

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Donaghy (left, obviously) has found himself a new way to make money. Well, kind of.
Donaghy (left, obviously) has found himself a new way to make money. Well, kind of.Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

That's right, people. Everyone's favorite former referee, Tim Donaghy, is back.

Most NBA fans undoubtedly remember Donaghy, but for those who don't—or those who need a refresher—here's a recap.

Donaghy was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007. In July 2007, he resigned from the league. His resignation came just a few days before it was reported that an NBA referee was being investigated by the FBI under suspicion of betting on games and making calls to affect the point spreads.

In August 2007, Donaghy plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to transmit wagering information. In July 2008, Donaghy was sentenced to 15 months in prison (via Jon Saraceno of USA Today and Jana Winter of FOXNews.com).

The NBA's investigation concluded that there was no evidence Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular ruling to increase his odds on winning a bet (per ESPN's Henry Abbott). But the numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

RJ Bell of Pregame.com analyzed the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons and said this:

The first 15 games of the 2006-07 refereed by Tim Donaghy that had big enough betting to move the point spread by at least 1.5 points were UNDEFEATED against Las Vegas meaning that the big money gamblers won a 15 of 15 times on his games. The odds of that happening randomly are 32,768 to 1 said RJ Bell of Pregame.com.

Tim Donaghy officiating style statistically changed during the 2005/06 and 06/07 seasons. During the two years prior (i.e., 03/04 and 04/05) he called significantly less fouls than the average NBA referee (his games scored more than Las Vegas expected only 44% of the time). During his last two seasons he called significantly more fouls than average (his games scored more than Las Vegas expected 57% of the time). The odds of this change happening randomly are approximately 19 to 1.

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Not great for the league. Anyway, outside of his book (Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA), we haven't heard much from Donaghy. Until now. Donaghy recently started his own website, Refpicks.com, where you can buy his picks on games for just $20 a pop. That's a lot to take in.

Personally, I have no problem with Donaghy setting up a handicapping service. It seems like a bit of a farce, sure, but he has to make money somehow. And if sports and gambling are all that he knows, then that's that. He might as well make the most of it. He certainly can't officiate anymore.

I do, however, have a problem with him naming his site "Refpicks.com." Who exactly is the ref making the picks? He should have gone with something like “Disgracedformerrefpicks.com” or “Icannolongergotojailforthis.com.” Really let the people know what they're getting out of the deal.

It's only been up for a short while, so honestly, the site's pretty bare right now. The homepage—featuring a confused-looking Donaghy crouching in front of a sexy female ref and Refpicks-clad basketball and football players—is pretty funny, but other than that, the site's nothing special. Just your standard handicapping site.

The question that has to arise from all of this is: Why take Donaghy's betting advice in the first place? He's a solid, if unspectacular, 8-5-1 on the year, but why trust him over all of the other more experienced handicappers out there?

I suppose the assumption might be that, as a former ref, Donaghy has some kind of insider information concerning how to pick games. And that assumption seems to be what he's banking on. Per his website, "Tim has a leg up on most handicappers, he has hands on insider experience in officiating games and knows all to well how and what can affect a score."

That sounds nice, but a few years back, Abbott combed through Donaghy's book and found most of these claims to simply be untrue.

For example, Donaghy wrote that referee Dick Bavetta liked to keep games close and often blew the whistle to help a team that was down big. He said that big underdogs tended to beat the spread when Bavetta was refereeing (per Abbott).

However, ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz and Joe Price, a professor of economics at Brigham Young University, found this to be patently untrue. Price told Arnovitz (and you can find all of Price's findings here):

If you had bet on the underdog all of the games in which Bavetta was an official and in which one of the teams was favored to win by seven or more points, your bet would have paid off only 46.2 percent of the games. This would have caused you to, on average, lose about 11.8 percent of the money that you bet, on average.

Donaghy also claimed that referee Steve Javie disliked Allen Iverson, and that it would be smart to bet against Iverson's teams when Javie was refereeing. Abbot debunked that as well, finding that Iverson shot just around 0.2 less free throws per 36 minutes when Javie was refereeing than he did in other games. He wrote:

Win or lose, gamblers typically pay a 10 percent vig. Basically, to win $100, you have to bet $110. If someone had bet $110 on Iverson's opponents to beat the spread in each of the 14 Javie games, they would have won $700, lost $660, (and had no money change hands on the "push" game). Do the math there, and you'll see that this betting strategy would have left you with a measly $40 profit, on $1540 gambled.

Donaghy claimed that referee Joe Crawford favored Iverson; Abbott found that you would have lost big money betting that way.

Donaghy wrote that referee Joe Forte and then-Memphis Grizzlies coach Mike Fratello were good friends and implied that the Grizzlies did better when Forte was refereeing. Abbott and Price found that the Grizzlies played poorly when Forte was on the court.

When confronted with all that data, Donaghy said (via Abbott):

These are some of the criteria that I used. I'm not saying I bet every game. ... You can spin the stats any way you want ... The FBI investigated thoroughly. ... To sit here and say there was a science to how I did this, with the stats you're throwing at me. ... Based on the information you're using, with your equation, it's not even in the same ballpark. There were other factors that came into play. Inside information about injuries. Home game or away game. Home crowd. Many more factors to take into consideration.

Does Donaghy know how to pick NBA games? Sure he does. You can't be an NBA official for 13 years and not understand the game and understand it well.

But to take Donaghy's advice under the impression that he has some kind of insider's edge would be downright foolish. Especially considering that the numbers show that you would have lost big betting on most of his information from 2005-07.

Regardless, you should check out Refpicks.com, have a laugh at confused Donaghy and, if you really want to, buy a pick or two. Maybe Donaghy's information will be a little more accurate now that Allen Iverson's out of the league.


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