The Dark Connection Between Mafia and Sports Betting

The Dark Connection Between Mafia and Sports Betting

Sports betting and the Mafia are synonymous, and only a few people know. It is an open secret that the foundation of Las Vegas City is funded by mob money. It is quite hard to imagine Las Vegas without organized crime. 

Despite the harrowing history of casino gambling and sports betting, there is no denying that Sin City is the birthplace of modern gambling. 

Mafia lords of sports betting

The establishment of Las Vegas as the ultimate gambling destination can be surprisingly owed to some of the shadiest characters in the history of the American Mafia. 

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel

1 Siegel
Mugshot of Bugsy

Siegel is probably the most infamous and violent of all the crime bosses who have established a casino and sports betting culture in Las Vegas. 

Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel is an American gangster who was born to Jewish parents who immigrated to the country in 1903. At a very young age, he committed crimes in the streets to support his family. His nickname, “Bugsy,” holds a sheer significance. It means he is as pesky as a bedbug, associated with his violent and savage nature. 

He founded the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 1946, one of the earliest gambling establishments on the Las Vegas Strip. He also formed a crime syndicate called Murder Inc., which operated casinos overseas and a few prostitution rings. Bugsy died in 1947 after sustaining gun wounds under mysterious circumstances. 

Franky “Lefty” Rosenthal

2 Lefty
Lefty (2nd to the left) and his entourage

Rosenthal is an American criminal who has started his shady career in Chicago, where he established an illegal bookmaking business that caters to the Mafia. 

From Chicago, he moved his business to Las Vegas, where he secretly founded several casinos, such as The Stardust, The Marina, The Hacienda, and The Fremont. He helped set up some innovations in Las Vegas casinos, most notably the use of attractive women as casino dealers, which doubled the revenue of these casinos. 

Eventually, his business went bust after a failed assassination attempt on his life when his car exploded with a bomb in 1982. He was banned from entering any gambling establishment in Nevada in 1988. Franky Rosenthal inspired the character Sam “Ace” Rothstein in the Martin Scorcese film Casino

Tim Donaghy

3 Tim
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy

The Mafia has plenty of individuals with questionable characters in their entourage, including Tim Donaghy. 

Tim Donaghy is a former professional referee for the National Basketball Association. He worked as the league’s official from 1994 to 2007. During that time, he started placing a wager on the match he was officiating and started making a profit. His success caught the attention of the Mafia and threatened him to stop. 

In 2007, a scandal broke out about his murky activities behind the scenes. The revelation further highlighted the strong connection between organized crime and sports betting. It was one of the most popular scandals in the history of gambling. 

Legalization of sports betting

Sports betting has existed since time immemorial, but it was only recently that it was considered legal in some parts of the world. In the United States, several states are now legalizing sports betting. 

There were some worries among sports bettors that the legalization of sports betting would cause problems for the mafia. If there is an option for bettors to gamble legally, they will choose that instead of relying on the instability of illegal bookmakers. 

After the Tim Donaghy scandal, it was crystal clear that the Mafia was powerful and they could have a complete influence over the outcomes in sports. However, the legalization of sports betting is starting to be prevalent, and it would reduce the impact of the mob on the gambling world. 

This move helps eliminate some illegal activities associated with sports betting, such as match-fixing and extortion. However, the introduction of online technology poses a massive threat to the world of gambling as there is little supervision from gaming authorities online. 


Indeed, sports betting and the mob have plenty of common denominators that tie them together and help establish the cradle of casino gambling and sports betting in the world. Despite the murky history of gambling in Las Vegas, these shady characters helped set up some innovations in casino culture. Their contributions to the world of gambling still echo in modern times.