Police in South Florida have arrested parents, coaches and folks in the stands after and 18-month investigation uncovered a youth football league gambling ring where thousands of dollars had been exchanged — including more than $100,000 wagered on a championship game.
Nine men were arrested Tuesday — six of them coaches with extensive criminal backgrounds.
An investigation into the alleged gambling ring was launched after reporters for ESPN told police they had been seeing money exchanged in the stands after games. What investigators found was that coaches would routinely meet before games to set point spreads, though there was no evidence of players — all under 18 years old — were involved in the gambling or throwing games based on the spreads.
According to an Associate Press story about the youth football league’s coaches’ arrests, investigators dug through trash cans and eventually raided two gambling houses. The raids led them to Coach B, Brandon Bivins, the alleged leader and who had been convicted earlier of cocaine possession, grand theft auto and marijuana possession with intent to sell.
An ESPN report exposes just how entrenched betting had become in the league, though the president, Micheal Spivey, claims to have been unaware of the criminal activity. But the sports news station interviewed past players and their parents, who said they took money, clothes, shoes and other gifts from coaches and league insiders as incentives for playing on certain teams.
Lt. Frank Ballante of the Broward County sheriff’s department, explained to the press why bets on the game are not only illegal but dangerous for the sport and players:
Authorities worry that betting on games can lead to violence and other crimes. The gambling bust comes after a Miami youth football coach was arrested earlier this month for punching a referee in the face during a game. In another South Florida city, a coach followed another coach home and killed his dog in front of him, Ballante said.
Those incidents were not related to the gambling busts, but authorities said it’s a lesson for cities to ramp up their background check ordinances.
Ballante warned gambling could end “up with a human being being shot over a football game and it’s not because their team lost a game or their kid didn’t score the touchdown it’s because they lost $40,000 on that play.”
More than 30,000 kids age 5 to 15 participate in the South Florida Youth Football League, according to ESPN. Former players and coaches told ESPN reporters, whose investigations tipped off authorities of the activity, that betting on games and even paying players has gone on for years — and rather openly — in the league.
Watch ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report or read about it over at the site.
More from Madeline on Strollerderby