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How Joe Gagliano’s love for sports gambling led him down a dark road

Joe Gagliano was one of several people charged in 1999 for fixing four college basketball games in what is known as the Arizona State Point Shaving Operation. Getty Images

This is a two-part series looking at the impact gambling and betting on competitive sporting events can have on people’s lives. 

Raised by a loving family, living in a good neighbourhood and on his way to getting a college education, Joe Gagliano was your typical all-American boy. Nobody would have guessed Gagliano would one day be arrested for orchestrating one of the biggest sports-fixing scandals in U.S. history – and it all started with a gambling habit.

Gagliano was 21 and he had come to realize college just wasn’t for him so he quit before graduating and got a job in the bonds department at the Chicago Board of Trade, a central marketplace that trades financial contracts – and where it all started.

“There’s a saying that says we’re all products of our own environment,” Gagliano says. “And at a young and impressionable age you begin to look up to these people that – in your mind – have captured success… And if you’re obtaining that level of success in a trading environment [yourself], you are more likely to embrace the grey areas in life.”

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And it was that grey area that encouraged Gagliano and the majority of his co-workers to indulge in either drugs or – Gagliano’s choice – gambling.

“The whole trading environment on the Chicago Board of Trade makes you lose all perception of money,” he says. “Even to this day I never tried drugs in my life but I certainly knew how to gamble.”

Gagliano’s vice wasn’t what you’d typically find at a poker or roulette table. It was sports betting.

“If you think about it, it’s not that different than trading in the market and it truly is just one giant casino,” he says. “For me [sports gambling] was always about numbers. It was never about the thrill of victory, but rather proving myself right.”

It didn’t matter if the game was basketball, hockey, football or baseball, Gagliano was placing bets and winning.

“The worst thing a gambler, or a potential gambler can do is have good luck early on,” he says. “Beginner’s luck is almost like a curse. It creates a sense of infallibility and you think this is so easy that you can keep doing it. And when the losses start happening you always naturally reflect back to the winning streak.”

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Gagliano maintains his gambling habit has never impaired his relationships or his ability to provide for his family, but it did lead him down a dark road.

“I know denial is probably the biggest ingredient to any type of addiction but I’m telling you from the depths of my heart I strongly believe that I have never – and still don’t – have a gambling problem,” he says. “But where I got in to trouble with gambling was with everything that happened with the [Arizona State Point Shaving Operation] in 1993 and 1994 where I orchestrated, financed and fixed the outcome of four college basketball games for the Arizona State men’s team.”

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According to the Los Angeles Times, a basketball player on the Sun Devils named Steven Smith (who was deep in debt because of gambling) asked his teammate Isaac Burton Jr. to miss some free-throw shots in a game against Oregon State in an effort to shave points.

When federal officials became aware of what was happening, Smith and Burton struck a deal with prosecutors in 1997 and outed four others who were involved – including Galgiano who was 29 at the time. Among the charges were sports bribery, conspiracy to commit sports bribery, interstate transportation and aid of racketeering.

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In 1999, Gagliano was found guilty and was sentenced to 15 months in prison, three years’ parole, 100 hours of community service and fined $6,000, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Fast forward 17 years and Gagliano has moved on and says he’s become more focused on his faith, family and future.

Looking back on what he did, Gagliano says the worst part is knowing how his actions could impact his four kids (who range in ages from eight to 21).

“It saddens me because the information age is just so prevalent and you can Google my name and research me,” he says. “I wasn’t strong enough at the age of 22 or 23 with my integrity to just say no when this opportunity presented itself because here it is all these years later, I’m still labelled by that point shaving scandal and that choice that I made.”

Gagliano says he still gambles today, but remains responsible and disciplined.

While Gagliano didn’t seek help, being sent to prison was his wake up call. Since then, he says he’s become more aware and responsible with his habit and doesn’t let it consume him.

“There’s a consequence for every choice we make, even more so with this information age today” he says. “Just try to stay true to yourself, to what’s right and wrong. If you follow that then you can never harm yourself.”

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