Sports Gambling - Illegal Sports Gambling

felony legal misdemeanor fighting

The AGA estimates that the Nevada sports books account for only 1–3% of all sports gambling conducted in the country. The vast majority of sports bets, then, 97–99%, are illegal. This makes it difficult to assess exactly how much money is involved.

The 1999 final report of the NGISC estimated that $80 billion to $380 billion per year is wagered illegally on sports in the United States. In 1998 the FBI estimated that illegal sports gambling was a $100 billion industry.

Illegal sports gambling encompasses a wide variety of activities. Most illegal bets on sporting events are placed with bookies. Internet gambling and office pools are also popular methods. In addition, there are some "sporting" events, illegal in themselves, that are popularly associated with gambling—for example, cockfighting and dog fighting.

The Link to Organized Crime

Illegal sports gambling has long been associated with organized crime in the United States. During the 1920s and early 1930s, illegal sports gambling became big business for mobsters as they set up organized bookmaking systems around the country. Betting on horses, in particular, was popular during this time period.

In 1931 Nevada legalized casino gambling again, and organized crime soon controlled most of the casino business. During the 1940s Nevada legislation was expanded to include OTB on horses. At that time two illegal and nationwide wire services were operated by known mobsters: Continental Wire Service and Trans America Wire. The latter was under the direction of notorious gangster Al Capone. The mobsters set up the services because the legitimate wire service, Western Union, was prohibited by law from transmitting race results until races were officially declared over. Sometimes this declaration did not take place for several minutes after the race finish. To prevent bettors from taking advantage of these delays by posting winning bets before the official results were wired, the mobsters set up their own wire services. Trans America became widely used in Nevada thanks in large part to the efforts of famous Las Vegas gangster and casino owner Ben "Bugsy" Siegel.

During the 1950s the federal government cracked down on organized crime and eventually drove mobsters out of the Nevada casino industry. As the casinos were taken over by corporations, organized crime strengthened its hold on the illegal business of bookmaking. Although law enforcement officials acknowledge that there are now many "independent" bookies operating throughout the country, the big money in sports gambling is still controlled by organized crime figures.

The Link to the Nevada Sports Books

Most illegal books use the odds posted by the Nevada sports books because these are well publicized. They also provide illegal bookies with a means for spreading the risk on bets. Illegal bookies who get a lot of action on one side of a bet often bet the other side with the Nevada sports books to even out the betting.

Transmitting gambling information across state lines for the purpose of placing or taking bets is illegal. News items about point spreads (the predicted scoring difference between two opponents) can be reported for informational and entertainment purposes only, but betting lines are still published by many U.S. newspapers. The Newspaper Association of America, which represents nearly 90% of daily-circulation papers in the country, defends the practice as free speech protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The association claims that readers want to see the lines to learn which teams are favored to win, not necessarily for betting purposes.

The NCAA hopes that a ban on all college sports wagering will pressure newspapers to stop publishing point spreads. The AGA counters that betting lines would still be accessible through independent sports analysts, offshore Internet gambling sites, and other outlets.

The AGA conducted an informal poll during March 2001, around the time of March Madness, the men's collegiate Division I basketball tournament. The AGA asked the student newspapers at all sixty-five colleges that qualified for the tournament whether or not they would accept advertising for Internet gambling sites, despite the fact that Internet gambling is illegal in the United States. All of the newspapers indicated that they would do so. The AGA criticized the NCAA for blaming illegal collegiate sports gambling on the Nevada sports books while illegal Internet gambling is promoted on college campuses.

Animal Fighting

The practice of gambling on animal fights has a long history in the United States, despite its unsavory reputation. Most staged animal fights involve cocks (male chickens) or dogs specially bred and trained. Although such fighting is usually associated with rural areas of the country, urban police reports about cockfighting and dog fighting have increased in recent years, as the "sport" has become popular among street gangs. Animal fights are of particular concern to law enforcement authorities because typically large amounts of cash and weapons are present.

Although no national statistics are available on animal fighting, some animal welfare groups collect data on its prevalence. is a Web site devoted to collecting and documenting information about animal abuse cases. The Web site is operated by a nonprofit organization based in California. As of December 2004 the Web site database included 239 documented cases of animal fighting.

COCKFIGHTING. Cockfighting is performed by cocks, which are male chickens also known as roosters. In the wild, cocks fight and peck one another to establish a hierarchy within their social order. However, these altercations rarely lead to serious injury. Fighting cocks are specially bred and trained by humans to be as aggressive as possible. They are given stimulants, steroids, and other drugs to heighten their fighting nature. Sharp spikes called gaffs are attached to their legs. The cocks are thrown into a pit together where they cannot escape. They slash and peck at one another, often until death. Spectators wager on the outcome of these fights. Cockfighting was banned by most states during the 1800s. It is now illegal in forty-eight states.


State laws on cockfighting, April 2004
State Cockfighting: on the law books Cockfighting: a felony or a misdemeanor Loophole: possession of cocks for fighting Loophole: being a spectator at a cockfight Loophole: possession of Implements
Alabama § 13A-12-4 Misdemeanor Legal Legal Legal
Alaska § 11.61.145 Felony Felony Misdemeanor5 Legal
Arizona § 13-2910.03 and § 13-2910.04 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Arkansas § 5-62-101 Misdemeanor3 Legal Legal Legal
California Cal Pen Code § 597b, 597c, 597i, 597j Misdemeanor6 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Colorado § 18-9-204 Felony Felony Felony Felony
Connecticut § 53-247 Felony Felony Felony Legal
Delaware 11 Del. C. § 1326 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Florida § 828.122 Felony Felony Felony Felony
Georgia § 16-12-4 Felony3 Legal Legal Legal
Hawaii § 711-1109 Misdemeanor Legal Legal Legal
Idaho § 25-3506 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
Illinois 510 ILCS 70/4.01 Felony2 Felony2 M isdemeanor M isdemeanor
Indiana § 35-46-3-8 to § 35-46-3-10 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Iowa § 717D.2 and § 725.11 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Felony
Kansas § 21-4319 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
Kentucky § 525.130 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
Louisiana Legal Legal Legal Legal
Maine1 17 M.R.S. § 1033 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Maryland Md. Crim . Law Code Ann. § 10-608 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Felony
Massachusetts ch. 272, § 94 and § 95 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Michigan § 750.49 Felony Felony Felony Felony
Minnesota § 343.31 Felony Felony M isdemeanor Legal
Mississippi § 97-41-11 Misdemeanor Legal Legal Legal
Missouri § 578.173 Felony Legal7 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Montana § 45-8-210 Felony Felony Legal Legal
Nebraska § 28-1005 Felony Felony Felony Legal
Nevada § 574.060 Felony2 Legal Felony2 Legal
New Hampshire § 644:8-a Felony Felony Felony Legal
New Jersey1 § 4:22-24 Felony Felony Felony Legal
New Mexico Legal7 Legal Legal Legal
New York NY CLS A gr & M § 351 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
North Carolina § 14-362 Felony2 Legal Misdemeanor Legal
North Dakota § 36-21.1-07 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Ohio § 959.15 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
Oklahoma 21 Okl. St. § 1692.2,§1692.5, § 1692.6 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Oregon § 167.355 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Pennsylvania 18 Pa.C.S. § 5511 Felony Felony Felony Legal
Rhode Island § 4-1-9 to § 4-1-11 Felony Felony Felony Legal
South Carolina § 16-17-650 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
South Dakota § 40-1-9 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
Tennessee § 39-14-203 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
Texas Tex. Penal Code § 42.09 Felony Legal Legal Legal
Utah § 76-9-301 and § 76-9-301.5 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor Legal
Vermont 13 V.S.A. § 352 Felony Felony Felony Legal
Virginia § 3.1-796.125 Misdemeanor4 Legal Misdemeanor8 Legal
Washington § 16.52.117 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
West Virginia § 61-8-19, §61-8-19a, §61-8-19b Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
Wisconsin § 951.08 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
Wyoming § 6-3-203 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Legal
48 Illegal 31 Felony 24 Felony 11 Felony 5 Felony
2 Legal 17 Misdemeanor 8 Misdemeanor 30 Misdemeanor 5 Misdemeanor
2 Legal 18 Legal 9 Legal 40 Legal

According to the HSUS, cockfighting was legal only in parts of Louisiana and New Mexico as of April 2004. (See Table 8.7.) It was a felony in seventeen states and a misdemeanor offense in thirty-one others. States differ in their treatment of cockfight spectators and those caught in possession of birds for fighting. The federal Animal Welfare Act prohibits the interstate transport of birds for cockfighting into states with laws against cockfighting.

Because cockfighting is still legal in some parts of the United States, in Mexico and the Caribbean, and in many Asian countries, there is a commercial breeding industry in America. The industry is represented by an organization called the United Gamefowl Breeders Association and similar groups operating at the state level. Although these groups claim to be agricultural organizations, the HSUS accuses them of promoting cockfighting.

In July 2004 South Carolina's agriculture commissioner, Charles Sharpe, was arrested and charged with taking payoffs from the South Carolina Gamefowl Management Association (SCGMA). According to media reports Sharpe lied to law enforcement officers investigating activities taking place at a SCGMA facility in Aiken County (Jennifer Holland, "Sharpe Indicted," The State). Sharpe allegedly told the officers that the facility was a legal operation

1These states do not use the terms "felony" or "misdemeanor," but rather have felony and misdemeanor equivalent penalties.
2A repeated offense can trigger a felony prosecution.
3While it is not specifically prohibited by state law, cockfighting can be prosecuted under the general anti-cruelty statute. On June 9, 2003, three people were indicted under felony charges for cockfighting under Georgia's new felony cruelty law.
4While it is not specifically prohibited by state law, cockfighting can be prosecuted under the general anti-cruelty statute as well as other statutes addressing cockfighting.
5In Alaska, a first offense is a violation, and a second offense becomes a misdemeanor.
6Felony charges may also be leveled against persons responsible for the mutilation of birds.
7In New Mexico, cockfighting has been prohibited in 13 counties and 28 municipalities
8In Virginia, being a spectator at an animal fight is only illegal if an admission fee is paid.
SOURCE: "Cockfighting: State Laws," in Cockfighting: State Laws, Humane Society of the United States, April 2004, September 13, 2004)
Washington DC § 22-1015 Felony Felony Misdemeanor Legal
American Samoa Legal Legal Legal Legal Legal
Guam Legal Legal Legal Legal Legal
Puerto Rico Legal Legal Legal Legal Legal
Virgin Islands Legal Legal Legal Legal Legal

because it was conducting fighting only to test the bloodline and hardiness of cocks. In November 2003 the facility was shut down by authorities, and more than a hundred people were arrested for cockfighting. Sharpe was subsequently indicted for taking at least $20,000 in payoffs from the SCGMA during 2002 and 2003. It is also alleged that he used his position as agriculture commissioner to influence regulations that were beneficial to the SCGMA. Sharpe has proclaimed his innocence in the case.

The database maintained by lists dozens of documented cases of cockfighting reported in the United States during the early 2000s. One of the largest cases occurred in July 2004 in Sacramento County, California. A law enforcement raid busted a cockfighting ring involving approximately five hundred birds. Fights conducted at the facility were estimated to involve up to $90,000 in wagers per fight. Officials said it was common for dozens of birds to die during each fight. Two people were charged in the incident.

In June 2004 police in Wayne County, West Virginia, raided an ongoing cock fight and arrested 125 people on drug and animal fighting charges. Approximately $30,000 in cash and nearly eighty roosters were confiscated.

DOG FIGHTING. Dog fighting is conducted between two dogs placed in a pit or small boarded arena. Spectators place bets on the outcome of the fights. Fights can go on for hours, sometimes to the death. Dogs that show any cowardice or unwillingness to fight are killed on the spot by their owners. American pit bull terriers are the most commonly bred and trained for this purpose because of their powerful jaws. Fighting dogs are bred, trained, and drugged to enhance their aggressiveness. Authorities report that the dogs are often draped in heavy chains to build muscle mass and systematically deprived of food and water. Stolen and stray pet dogs and cats are commonly used as bait to train the fighters. The smaller animals are stabbed or sliced open and thrown to the fighting dogs to enhance their blood lust.

Dog fighting is illegal in all fifty states. (See Table 8.8.) According to the HSUS as of April 2004 dog fighting is a felony in forty-eight states and a misdemeanor in only two states, Idaho and Wyoming.

In January 2004 Georgia authorities busted the largest dog fighting ring ever reported in the state. Sheriff's deputies in Jones County arrested 123 people after raiding a vacant house in which a dog fight was taking place. Officers found one dog that had already died from its wounds and two that were mortally wounded. Ten surviving dogs were turned over to animal control agencies. The people arrested were charged with a variety of offenses, including animal cruelty, gambling, and weapons and drug charges. A number of guns and thousands of dollars in cash were seized along with dog fighting paraphernalia, including trophies and plaques that were to be awarded to the owners of winning dogs.

In December 2000 the Harvard Medical School's Weekly Addiction Gambling Education Report published its research findings on the cultural aspects of dog fighting in the southern United States. Researchers conducted interviews with thirty-one men involved in dog fighting in Louisiana and Mississippi. They found that dog fighting was closely associated with the men's need to assert their masculinity. An aggressive, brave dog reflected well on its owner, even if it lost. The perceived "macho qualities" of the dog brought the owner status and prestige within the group. A dog showing cowardice or a willingness to quit reflected poorly on its owner's masculinity. Such dogs are called curs and are killed by their owners. Research showed that favor among their peers was more important to the men than even gambling winnings.


State laws on dogfighting, April 2004
Year Dogfighting: on the law books Dogfighting: a felony or a misdemeanor Loophole: possession of dogs for fighting Loophole: being a spectator at a dogfight
1These states do not have felony or misdemeanor offenses per se, but rather have felony and misdemeanor equivalent penalties.
2A repeated offense can trigger a felony prosecution.
SOURCE: "Dogfighting: State Laws," in Dog Fighting: State Laws, Humane Society of the United States, April 2004, September 13, 2004)
Alabama § 13A-12-4 Misdemeanor Legal Legal
Alabama § 3-1-29 Felony Felony Felony
Alaska § 11.61.145 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Arizona § 13-2910.01 to 02 Felony Felony Felony
Arkansas § 5-62-120 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
California § 597.5 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Colorado § 18-9-204 Felony Felony Felony
Connecticut § 53-247 Felony Felony Felony
Delaware § 1326 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Florida § 828.122 Felony Felony Felony
Georgia § 16-12-37 Felony Legal Legal
Hawaii § 711-1109.3 Felony Felony Legal
Idaho § 25-3507 Misdemeanor Legal Misdemeanor
Illinois 510 ILCS 5/26-5 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Indiana § 35-46-3-4 to 9.5 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Iowa § 717D.1 to 6 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Kansas § 21-4315 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Kentucky § 525.125 to 130 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Louisiana 14:102.5 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Maine1 17 MRS §1033 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Mary land Art 27 § 59 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Massachusetts Ch. 272 § 94 to 95 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Michigan § 28.244 Felony Felony Felony
Minnesota § 343.31 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Mississippi § 97-41-19 Felony Felony Felony
Missouri § 578.025 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Montana § 45-8-210 Felony Felony Felony
Nebraska § 28-1005 Felony Felony Felony
Nevada § 574.070 Felony Legal Felony2
New Hampshire § 644:8-a Felony Felony Felony
New Jersey1 § 4:22-24 Felony Felony Felony
New Mexico § 30-18-9 Felony Felony Felony
New York Agr & M § 351 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
North Carolina § 14-362.2 Felony Felony Felony
North Dakota § 36-21.1-07 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Ohio § 955.15 to 16 Felony Felony Felony
Oklahoma 21 § 1694 to 1699.1 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Oregon § 167.365 Felony Felony Felony
Pennsylvania 18 Pa.C.S. § 5511 Felony Felony Felony
Rhode Island § 4-1-9 to 13 Felony Felony Felony
South Carolina § 16-27-10 to 80 Felony Felony Felony2
South Dakota § 40-1-9 to 10.1 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Tennessee § 39-14-203 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Texas § 42.10 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Utah § 76-9-301.1 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Vermont 13 VSA § 352 Felony Felony Felony
Virginia § 3.1-796.124 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Washington § 16.52.117 Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
West Virginia § 61-8-19 to 19a Felony Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
Wisconsin § 951.08 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
Wyoming § 6-3-203 Misdemeanor Misdemeanor Misdemeanor
50 I llegal 48 Felony 41 Felony 20 Felony
0 Legal 2 Misdemeanor 6 Misdemeanor 28 Misdemeanor
3 Legal 2 Legal
Washington, DC Ch. 106 Felony Felony Misdemeanor
American Samoa Legal Legal Legal Legal
Guam § 34205 Violation Legal Legal
Puerto Rico 15 LPRA § 235 Felony Legal Misdemeanor
Virgin Islands 19 VIC § 2613a Felony Felony Felony

Dog fighting is not limited to southern states and rural areas. In February 2004 a reporter for the Buffalo News reported on the growing problem of dog fighting in urban neighborhoods of Buffalo, New York (T. J. Pignataro, "Betting on Cruelty," February 8, 2004). The article describes drug and weapons raids by police that accidentally uncovered well-organized dogfighting operations around the city. One detective is quoted as saying "There is big money involved in this, and there are substantial bets." Authorities report that thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables, such as car titles, guns, and drugs, are commonly wagered at these dog fights. Gruesome scenes are described in which owners chop off the heads of dogs that disgrace them by losing or backing down during a fight. Trash bags full of mangled pit bulls have been found by city authorities in vacant fields or along city streets.

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