A late flood of money -- perhaps more than a $1 million -- was bet on Evander Holyfield just before he stepped into the ring with Lennox Lewis, drawing the attention of investigators.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board confirmed Monday that it is looking into the bets made at a number of Las Vegas sports books in the hours before the March 13 fight at Madison Square Garden.
Almost all of the money ended up being refunded to bettors when the fight was ruled a draw, even though Holyfield appeared to have lost.
The probe by gambling regulators comes on top of investigations by a Manhattan grand jury, a state Senate committee and the New York State Athletic Commission.
Nevada investigators are primarily concerned with whether the money was bet on behalf of one individual or group by so-called "messenger" bettors, which is against Nevada law. But a source close to the probe told The Associated Press that the agency was also working with out-of-state agencies investigating the fight.
"We're looking at any betting patterns we can find," said Keith Copher, chief of enforcement for the agency that regulates Nevada casinos.
More than $1 million may have been bet just before the fight in Las Vegas sports books and those run out of the Caribbean, causing the odds favoring Holyfield to jump.
One longtime Las Vegas bettor said the betting pattern was so unusual that he suspected the money was bet with inside knowledge of what the outcome might be.
"This was a real scam, except it didn't work," said Lem Banker, one of a very few sports bettors who has made a living over the years wagering on sporting events and is well respected in the industry. "There was a lot of what I call `unnatural money' wagered on Holyfield."
Holyfield had been a slight favorite in the week before the fight, but the bout was nearly a pick 'em by Saturday, said Pete Korner of Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which sets the odds for most Las Vegas sports books.
Then just before the fight began close to midnight EST, a rush of money pushed odds to as much as 8-5 and 9-5 on Holyfield, he said.
"Obviously somebody or some group was playing Holyfield very late," Korner said. "They did their homework well waiting for the price to come down before they bet it."
| Investigators are looking into late bets in the Holyfield-Lewis fight. (AP)|
Joe Lupo, sports book director at the Stardust hotel, said the late Holyfield money caused the line to move from minus 130 to minus 160 (8-5) just before the fight. But Lupo said h believes the bets were not out of the ordinary.
"I didn't see any unusual betting," Lupo said. "It was all small money, no real large wagers."
The Mirage, which has one of the largest casino sports books, had no comment, according to spokeswoman Jenn Michaels.
Among other things, investigators want to know whether the money was bet by "messenger" bettors who fanned out to various casinos to make bets at the direction of one bettor.
Messenger betting is done primarily by big bettors to get bets down at various casinos without the odds being raised too quickly and to avoid the identification forms that must be filled out for any bet of $10,000 or more.
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