Famous sports betting game-fixing scandals

Feb 28, 2024

The biggest worry a league commissioner has is that sports betting will cause players to fix games or cheat in hopes of earning some extra money from nefarious characters. However, point shaving and game fixing have unfortunately already been a part of sports history, including in the MLB, NBA, tennis, soccer, and more. Here’s a look at some of the notable game-fixing scandals that have given those leagues and organizations a black eye in terms of integrity.


One of the most infamous sports betting game-fixing scandals came in baseball. In 1919, eight players from the Chicago White Sox planned to fix the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. The scandal earned them the nickname the “Black Sox”, as it became one of the most interesting yet detrimental events to happen to the sport. As the story goes, eight players - including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson - of the extremely talented White Sox team conspired with professional gamblers to fix the 1919 World Series (SABR).

Although there are still a lot of uncertainties regarding the century-old scandal, it is believed that first baseman Chick Gandil was the one who concocted the scheme with a bookmaker. Gandil recruited a few other White Sox players with the promise of money, and in the en  eight players formed a group with the aim of throwing the series. In a best-of-nine series, the White Sox lost in eight games. Each player was reportedly promised $100,000 for their involvement, but in the end it all fell apart (History.com). 

The scandal was uncovered shortly after the series, and all eight players were given a lifetime ban from baseball. The extreme punishment for these players sent a message to baseball players that has stood for over 100 years: if you try to fix a game, you’re out of baseball forever. The Black Sox scandal was such an important event in baseball history because it wasn’t just the first time that a player had cheated; it was the first time multiple players were cheating and the public found out about it.


One of the most well-known scandals in NBA history is how former referee Tim Donaghy conspired to fix games for a small fee. Donaghy was making over $400,000 a year as an NBA referee, but he was a gambler and met James Battista soon after becoming an NBA referee. The scheme was set: Donaghy would give his pick to Battista for the game that he was refereeing, and Donaghy would get $2,000 as a fee (ESPN). From 2003 to 2007, Donaghy was feeding Battista picks that were winning at an extremely high rate.

With Donaghy’s inside knowledge of the game and ability to control the action on the court, he became the key to the operation. After giving his pick for the game to Battista, Battista would wager hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars on each pick. From 2006 to 2007, the scheme was growing, and a friend of the two, Tommy Martino, said that Donaghy could influence a game "by six points either way. That's what he told me.” (ESPN)

The scheme was uncovered in 2007, and an investigation was launched into Donaghy. After an investigation by ESPN, it was announced that 70% of calls Donaghy made in the 2006-2007 NBA season were on the team he picked (Bleacher Report). Donaghy was fired and sentenced to 15 months in prison for his involvement. 


Unlike the previous scandals, one of the most infamous tennis scandals featured hundreds of accomplices. Over 180 tennis players across the world were involved in a match-fixing ring that started in 2014. It began with Grigor Sargsyan in Brussels, who was the leader of the operation (NPR). He was a gambler who was curious if there was a way to gamble on games with a guaranteed outcome. That’s when he learned tennis players in the lowest tier of the professional level make very little money. An idea formed in Sargsyan’s head.

The tennis players in the low tier were not only getting paid very little, but they were also relatively easy to corrupt. Sargsyan grew a network of over 180 tennis players, and the idea of the scheme was this: the player didn’t need to lose the entire match. Losing just a game or set was enough for “spot-fixing.” That was a way to guarantee a win and have the player still be able to win the match or tournament. The players would get $2,000-$3,000 for throwing a game or set in a tournament (NPR).

In 2018, the operation crumbled. Sargsyan was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison, and the tennis players were banned from the tour. For the few years that the operation was active, Sargsyan and his crew were making thousands from low-level tennis.


Soccer is one of the most popular sports for match-fixing scandals. One of the most recent instances was in Brazil in 2022 when numerous players were suspected of conspiring with gangs through sports betting (CNN). Players were given money for certain acts on the field, like getting a yellow or red card. However, this is not unheard of in soccer. Going back to 2000, there have been dozens of instances of match-fixing in the sport.

Another of the most popular scandals came in 2009 when it was discovered that there was match-fixing in the Champions League and Europa League. The Union of European Football Associations said that 40 matches were under investigation for suspicious activity (OLBG). Players, coaches, referees, and match officials were all involved with international organized gangs to fix matches.

Game-fixing scandals in soccer range all over the world in the last few decades, and it remains one of the most vulnerable sports for corruption, especially as betting options on micro-events within matches expands.


Game-fixing spans over many different sports - even cricket. One of the biggest scandals in sports history comes from cricket in 2000 when Hansie Cronje accepted money for throwing matches. Cronje was the captain of the South African national cricket team at the time, and he admitted to receiving $10,000 to $15,000 for inside information, but that’s not all (ESPN Cric Info). Cronje confessed to taking over $100,000 in bribes from gamblers for game-fixing instances in his cricket career.

Corruption is sadly possible in every sport, no matter the professional level or popularity.


The Black Sox Scandal

What Was the 1919 'Black Sox' Baseball Scandal? | HISTORY

How former ref Tim Donaghy conspired to fix NBA games - ESPN

NBA Denies ESPN's Report That Tim Donaghy Fixed Games | News, Scores, Highlights, Stats, and Rumors

Over 180 professional tennis players participated in a global match-fixing ring : NPR

Brazil launches a federal investigation into soccer match-fixing | CNN

Biggest Match Fixing Scandals - OLBG.com

A timeline of the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal | ESPNcricinfo

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