Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Philip Porter, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Bradley Kamp, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Beom Lee, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Patrick Kelly, Ph.D.


Corruption, Efficient Market Hypothesis, Sports Betting, Sports Economics


The study of economics is based on key concepts such as incentives, efficiency, marginality and tradeoffs. Economic research has hypothesized and tested for how economic agents behave after taking each of these into account. In order for agents to meet their objectives it is sometimes the case that they intentionally keep their behaviors out of sight. However, economic theory can be used to search for patterns of observed behaviors from which the unobserved behaviors can be inferred. This dissertation performs this kind of analysis by observing the behavior of sports participants.

Chapter 1 is an application of Becker's (1968) economic model of crime by using an econometric model to search for the presence of National Basketball Association (NBA) referees who bet on NBA games. The placement of these bets is not observed since a referee who bets on a game does so illegally and therefore hides his betting activity to prevent detection. A referee who places a bet on a game he also officiates has an incentive to manipulate to improve his chances of winning the bet. At the same time he should also be mindful to manipulate in a way that lowers his chances of being detected. The referee's observed behaviors through detailed play-by-play data are used to look for patterns hypothesized to be consistent with manipulation. The results suggest that former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who was found to have bet on NBA games, did behave in ways consistent with manipulation. One other referee also appears to engage in the same type of behavior but stops once Donaghy is detected.

Chapter 2 is an application of Fama's (1970) Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH). Typically, the EMH is tested in the financial markets but some research tests for it in the sports betting markets so that the question becomes whether or not the betting market odds fully reflect all of the available relevant information. This chapter tests to see how completely National Football League (NFL) bettors use information called the circadian advantage. This occurs when a game is played in the evening, Eastern Time, between teams that are based on opposite coasts and always favors the better rested West Coast team. A regression model designed to test for market efficiency finds that the advantage is not fully reflected in the odds so that bets on the West Coast team are underpriced. In a majority of games that involve a circadian advantage most of the money is wagered on the overpriced East Coast team. A conclusion that ties these results together is that the bookmakers restrict the amount bet from informed bettors who tend to win their bets and who are aware of the circadian advantage, and adjust the odds just enough to bait uninformed bettors who are unaware of the circadian advantage into placing wagers on the team that is overpriced. Given these dynamics, it is the bookmakers who profit from the information contained in the circadian advantage.

Chapter 3 revisits the NFL betting market but instead estimates the extent to which bettors place wagers based on sentiment for a team that is unrelated to relevant measures of relative performance along the lines of speculative investment outlined by Graham and Dodd in 1934 (2009). The results show that more bets tend to be placed on teams for which bettors have high sentiment and fewer bets are placed on teams for which bettors have low sentiment. However, the market odds appear to be using sentiment unbiasedly, leading to the conclusion that contrarian bettors place wagers opposite the sentimental bettors. While the market as a whole is efficient in the use of sentiment, losers tend to be bettors who wager with sentiment and winners tend to be bettors who wager against sentiment.