For NBA referees, the job isn't about winning or losing. And for NBA referee Tim Donaghy, experts say, neither was his gambling addiction.
The adrenalin rush that comes with placing a wager is what keeps bettors betting -- and problem gamblers losing. Donaghy, with his high-profile, US$260,000-a-year job and beautiful Florida home, didn't need the money.
He needed the excitement.
"It's not about the money so much as the action," said Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler who operates a hot line for people with the same addiction. "It makes you feel like a big shot by being in the action ... The need for action drives you."
Donaghy pleaded guilty to federal charges this week, admitting he provided NBA betting picks to gambling associates based on inside information.
Donaghy acknowledged the "unique access" provided by his job -- including which crews would officiate certain games, the relationships between certain officials and players, and the physical condition of certain players.
The 40-year-old Donaghy has battled gambling demons for several years.
While court papers say Donaghy himself bet on the NBA for four years, including games he officiated, compulsive gambling experts said taking payoffs for picks make perfect sense. There is a thrill that comes with every bet, whether it involves a neighborhood bookie or a lucrative tip slipped to a high-roller, they said.
Authorities did not specify any games where Donaghy officiated and placed bets, nor would they say if he made calls during games to help a team cover the spread. But court documents provided a glimpse of his scheme.
In one exchange with his coconspirators, court papers said, Donaghy provided a tip about an NBA game on Dec. 13, last year. He officiated a Boston Celtics-76ers game in Philadelphia that same day.
The next day, Donaghy met with the conspirators to receive a cash payment for passing along useful information about the 76ers-Celtics game, said a person close to the investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The point spread moved two points before tip-off -- a sizable swing -- with Boston going from a 1.5-point favorite to a 3.5-point choice. Boston won by 20.
Speaking in code during telephone calls, Donaghy made gambling recommendations to the coconspirators. If he was correct, they paid him US$5,000 in cash. If he was wrong, he received nothing.
A report on ESPN Radio in New York said Donaghy will provide prosecutors with as many as 20 names of other NBA officials and will detail their involvement in some form of gambling. NBA spokesman Tim Frank said the league had no additional information and would not comment.