What Is Point Shaving?

Posted: April 3, 2016

Point shaving is the act of a player, or players, doing everything they can to limit how much they score in a game, so that they can influence the point spread, ensuring that gamblers who bet on that team involved in a game make more money. Required for a point shaving scheme includes a sports gambler and one player (sometimes more) from the team that is being bet on or against.

Usually any and all of the players involved in such a scheme have agreed to make sure that their team does not cover the set point spread in the game. It is possible for the team involved does in fact win, but not by as much as was predicted they would win by.

It’s been used in college sports and professional sports; basketball is the easiest sport to fix games due to the tempo of scoring and the fact that it is easier for a single player to influence important parts of the particular game. The players can miss shots, or foul a certain player, or turn the ball over in clutch moments to make sure they do not cover the spread (doing so in a way that does not make people suspicious). The gambler would then bet against that team. Sometimes referees are involved, either on their own, running their own scheme or being involved in a gambler’s scheme to help run the scheme (phantom fouls, etc.)

American football is subject to point-shaving as well. Although rare, it does happen; and when it does, it involves a quarterback throwing bad passes or even interceptions on purpose. It also can involve the officials in the game to call plays incorrectly.

Typically involved in a point shaving scandal are college players who are attending college on a full ride scholarship of some kind, but without everyday money to support themselves- or sometimes a family- to allow themselves to have basic necessities. Thus motivating them to take bribes to influence the outcomes on their games.

There is about $2.5 billion being bet legally in the state of Nevada each year. This number is dwarfed by the eighty billion to three hundred and eighty billion dollars (this includes bets made not involved in fixed matches or events) being bet illegally on sporting events. This gives small time bookies large profits from point shaving schemes that are small time.

A study was done by two men to determine under what circumstances point shaving was most likely to occur. They studied over 35,000 games over a fifteen year period (1995-2009) to test their theory; that teams are more likely to do it in the regular season and with double digit point spreads. What they found was that it was not simply done by those people who had been caught, but by a lot of teams on a smaller scale. When the point spread was three points, the favored team to win, won by three. There was a big spike, they found in games where the team was favored by over eleven points, they would by seven to nine points. Another study was done, that concluded that point shaving occurred in a small amount of games (thirty games in a season- consistent with what the two men found) with an eleven-plus point spread. It did not, however, happen at all in the post season. There was also evidence that non-favored teams would lose by a larger amount, more than was expected because no one really cares by what margin a given team loses. They both found that as the benefits of point shaving goes up, so too does the amount of cases where it occurs.

There are repercussions on fixing these games, since people are betting on these games and could win more money or lose money. It is a federal offense to take part; if caught players can be brought up on charges that come from the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of aiding and abetting criminal activity, conspiracy, conspiracy to commit sports-bribery, fraud to influence the outcomes of games, illegal book-making, and depending on whether or not the people involved have traveled across state lines or not, interstate travel with the intent to commit bribery. If found guilty, the offenders may face up to twenty years in prison.

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