Gambling, Boxing & Corruption

Sonny Liston on the right, with casino executive Ash Resnick next to Liston.


Sonny Liston was named the seventh greatest fighter of all time by Ring Magazine, yet was an enigma to many. He was widely regarded as unbeatable, yet lost the world heavyweight title in 1964 to Muhammad Ali. In a 1965 rematch, Ali knocked him out in the first round. The rumors flew among the sports writers and those in the know that the fight might have been fixed.
In 1962 Liston knocked out Floyd Paterson and made boxing history by becoming the first man to win the heavyweight title with a first-round knockout. In 1963 Liston gave Patterson another match and knocked Patterson down three times in the first-round, and was credited as a win with a first-round knockout.
Liston’s father Tobe, put many scars on the face and body of Sonny growing up. It was a dysfunctional family and his upbringing surely made it easy for young Sonny to turn to crime. Sonny once remarked, “The only thing my old man ever gave me was a beating.” Eventually Sonny participated in muggings and armed robberies and eventually caught at the age of 20 and was sentenced five years to the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1950. After his early release in 1952, Liston had a brief amateur career and then signed a professional contract in 1953.
It was rumored that the only boxing managers that Liston could get tied up with were underworld figures, who supplemented Liston’s income working for them as an enforcer. In 1957 after a scuffle with a policeman, Liston was banned from boxing for the year. In 1958 he returned to boxing surrounding getting a new manager, Joe “Pep” Barone, who was a front for hoodlums Frankie Carbo and Frank “Blinky” Palermo.
Carbo was nicknamed “Mr. Gray”, “The Wolf”, “The Uncle”, and The Cousin”. Sports writer Jim Murray punched up Carbo’s power as, “He ruled as boxing’s Godfather.” Murray wrote, “It was an era in which hoodlums sat at ringside with guns concealed under the newspapers and pointed at the guy who was supposed to lose. It was an era of threats, manipulation and extortion in which fighters frequently ended up on shoeshine stands or in mental hospitals while the guys in the gray felt hats who owned them wore diamond rings and rode around in bullet-proof cars.”
Frankie Carbo and associates were the masters of the fight game. He preferred to own both fighters that would be matched up. If he did not own the fighter, the fighter would never have a chance to win a title bout. He did not have to fix every match, but he did get caught in the Jake LaMotta-Tiger Jack Fox bout.
Blinky Palermo and Jonny Vitale were the sidekicks of Carbo that resulted in a perfect scenario with capability to put the fix in a boxing match. In May, 1965, just after the Liston-Cassius Clay fight, the FBI was concerned about the possibility of a fix. An internal FBI memo stated, “…The Liston-Clay fight has received wide publicity by all forms of news media. Included in the publicity have been what appear to be unsubstantiated allegations by sports writers and persons long associated with the fight game that this fight was “fixed”.
The FBI contacted confidential informants and other sources who were considered experts in the boxing field on a national scale, but could not develop any positive leads or evidence that indicated bribery or other irregularities connected to the May 25, 1965 fight. The investigation was then closed.
Carbo was not stranger to suspicion and the eyes of the government especially with the overshadowing strength of his tentacles in the boxing game. In May 1958, St. Louis boxing manager, Edward Yawitz was ordered to appear before New York grand jury to answer questions concerning a loan to Carbo. Yawitz’s and partner Bernard Glickman, managed Virgil Akins, a St. Louis contender for the welterweight championship. Glickman extended a $10,000 loan through Yawitz to Frankie Carbo. Yawitz boxer was victorious over Isaac Logart in the match. Many think the alleged loan was a payoff, rather than a loan.
In July of 1958, Frankie Carbo was indicted on 10 charges of conspiracy, acting as an unlicensed matchmaker and as an undercover fight manager. Carbo was the fifth manager indicted by the New York grand jury system concerning fixed fights. Carbo was not alone in being an undisclosed behind the scenes matchmaker in boxing. In 1959 Mafia boss “Fat Tony” Salerno was an undisclosed financial backer of the Patterson-Johansson held in Yankee Stadium. In the 1960s, Salerno controlled the largest numbers racket operation in New York, grossing up to $50 million per year. Many mobsters moved out of Harlem and East Harlem when they became predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhoods. However, Salerno kept his headquarters at the Palma Boys Social Club in East Harlem and continued to work in these areas. The FBI accused him of heading a bookie and loan shark network that grossed $1 million annually. Salerno hired Roy Cohn as his attorney. On April 20, 1978, Salerno was sentenced to six months in federal prison for illegal gambling and tax evasion charges.
Salerno even had his hands in the operation of several Las Vegas casinos and had a few key employees in areas wherein Salerno and associates could receive a piece of the daily casino drop. One undisclosed shift manager would remark, “My man, Fat Tony, would pay $50,000 to be able to walk through the lobby of the hotel without being spotted.” This particular shift manager was a former Sands Hotel “Rat Pack” era employee with heavy New York connections.
Many say that there is no corruption in boxing and that if it were not for boxing gyms in the major cities that we would have more youths enter a life of crime and mayhem. Maybe so, but there is plenty of evidence that professional boxing is corrupt, however the subtlety of corruption may be induced on a matched pair of boxers, and the winner has no idea that the match was rigged. This method of fixing a fight is no stranger to any two man competition. The winner of the bout simply has no knowledge of the skullduggery. All the dots and crossing of the letter t is done unbeknownst to the winner. The loser simply takes a dive. The benefactors simply have to get the bets down wherever and quickly. The winner has absolutely no idea that he won on the fight fairly.
The knowledge of fixing fights leaked throughout the gambling world, sometimes by accident. Such is the case of former Howard Hughes science advisor, John Meier, who developed a very close relationship with Moe Dalitz, the seller of the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino to the billionaire Howard Hughes. Some say that Meier was a great asset in getting the sale completed, as Hughes was a procrastinator. Hughes personally liked Meier and Meier had, what they call in Las Vegas jargon, “juice” with Hughes. This so called “juice” is one of the mysteries that has not been unraveled by the legendary Meier. Meier does however, relay an interesting story about boxing great, Sonny Liston, while sitting with Moe Dalitz one evening.
(Ed. Note: John gave this information to a CNN writer doing a story on rigged fights.) “In reference to your story on the Liston Ali fights being fixed, it was. I was personal advisor to Howard Hughes and a friend of Moe Dalitz. I sat at a table having dinner with Moe and a few of his friends when Sonny Liston came up to the table. He was either drunk or on drugs. He told Moe that he wanted another $50,000 credit from the Casino at the Desert Inn. Moe told him to go to bed. Sonny then made a fist and was about to raise it into Moe’s face. Moe told Sonny to not raise his arm and to just look around him. Four men at the tables stood up. They worked for Moe. Sonny then turned and walked away. I asked Moe what was that about. He said that Sonny got big money to lose to Ali twice and should be happy with that. This all took place after the 2nd Ali-Liston fight.
It is not just boxing that has been corrupted, professional basketball and football is also far from perfect. Writer Dan Moldea has identified at least 71 professional football games that have been rigged. Point shaving, fumbles and many other ruses have been used to keep the score were those with the inside information gambler can win big.
But the question is: Does everything and everybody have a price? It seems that in Washington that almost anything can be done for a price, meaning that each representative may have a price for just about any request. In the representative’s mind, they equate that if the verbiage and the mandates of the legislation are within the law, or that if they simply add a word such as may, instead of must, then all is moral and fair. In their minds they are good legislators.
In amateur sports and professional sports wherein a betting line is offered, the possibility of game fixing is present. If the game cannot be fixed by missing baskets or field goals, etc., valuable information about the team’s injuries and who is starting and who is tired from a night of gallivanting may be useful in obtaining a game advantage.
Pete Rose has been denied the entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of gambling. Is it a crime to bet on yourself? Is it a crime to bet against yourself when you know you just don’t feel like playing with 100% effort that day? Is it unethical to gamble? Is greed a crime? Some will say it just depends. From a good source: Pete Rose was found out and turned in by the bookies he failed to pay, not because he was gambling.
Corruption occurs in the lives of every citizen every single day. Greed is something that is inbred in everyone. Something for nothing is what drives all of our advertising. Free this or free that, 2 for 1 and all you can eat, are familiar phrases that everyone is accustomed. We are raised to be competitive and to be capitalists, however our educational basics have not given us the moral compass to keep us on the straight and narrow.
Many great athletes have succumbed to the weakness of cheating because their thinking became corrupted, because of the need of money to live in a life style of glamour, or because they will do anything to win and be number one.
So the moral of the story: if you are going to wager, bet, gamble or participate in any event, expect to get taken advantage of or get the worst of it. It goes with the territory. Caveat Bettor!