Behind The Scenes

OTL: Inside South Florida youth football gambling investigation

Tuesday’s story will be accompanied by today’s Outside the Lines piece at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN

On Tuesday, Outside the Lines and published a story detailing the Broward County (Fla.) Sheriffs’ disruption of an alleged gambling operation involving illegal betting on youth football games — involving 5-to-15-year-olds — in South Florida.

The nine total arrests (seven youth football coaches and two others) were conducted on Monday with ESPN cameras gaining exclusive access for the round-up of the suspects. The arrests come 18 months after OTL first exposed adults illegally betting on youth football games in South Florida.

On today’s OTL (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) reporter Paula Lavigne provides more details of the developing story.

Front Row spoke with Lavigne and ESPN producer Greg Amante for some background on how the story came to be.

This continues OTL’s look at the youth gambling issue. What is the takeaway from these new developments?
Lavigne: We had heard last fall that although the gambling wasn’t so out in the open anymore, it had gone underground. But we had no idea the possible extent of the gambling and the sophistication. People also hinted that coaches were involved — and we had a coach among likely gamblers in our original piece — but it was impressive to me to learn that detectives were targeting so many coaches as ringleaders.

Amante: In my heart of hearts, I knew the reporting we had done made a difference and helped to clean up some of the behavior, but I also knew that it probably didn’t go away all together.

Discuss how you stayed involved with the story and continued your reporting since the original story?
Amante: Our first story had such an impact on the community. We caught the police and families and a lot of people off guard. All this was going on under their noses. People kept in touch and were telling us ‘Hey, this is still going on.’ People continued to reach out to us. You just do your due diligence. We both kept in touch with families and our law enforcement contacts.

What does your reporting say about how widespread gambling on youth sports is and does it go beyond Florida?
Lavigne: I’ve received emails — and read in the online comments — statements from people in other parts of the country saying this type of thing is happening there. It is entirely possible. One thing that history shows has set Florida apart is the level of football talent and the passion for the game. Florida generates more top flight high school players than any other state. So youth football is incredibly popular there.

Amante: Wherever there is such passion for a sport, it’s a ripe environment for someone to take advantage of it. So is it possible in Texas? In Southern California? I would think so.

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