Nine men in South Florida have been arrested and accused of betting significant amounts of money on youth football games, some involving children as young as age 5.
Eight of the people cuffed by the Broward Sheriff's Office were coaches in the league, some of whom allegedly even paid out "bonuses" to their players for good performances, according to police.
The Sheriff's Office built their case during an 18-month investigation they labeled "Operation Dirty Play" and they learned the epicenter for the alleged betting was not the scattered pee-wee football fields across Broward County where coaches made wagers and exchanged cash, but a barber shop called Red Carpet Kutz.
The place, investigators charge, was a front for an illegal gambling ring which took in bets on professional sports as well as the South Florida Youth Football League. An arrest warrant claims more than $100,000was wagered on the league's championship game alone. ESPN, which first uncovered the story, reports $20,000 was bet on a recent game.
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When police raided Red Carpet Kutz, they uncovered a floor safe, which contained $37,000 in cash, according to Sheriff Al Lamberti.
The man who runs Red Carpet Kutz is Brandon Bivins, a youth football head coach who was charged with felony bookmaking and operating a gambling house. Bivins is currently out of jail after bonding out on Wednesday. He already has an extensive criminal record, which includes time served for cocaine possession, aggravated assault with a weapon and grand theft auto. Many of the other coaches arrested also have lengthy rap sheets.
"Bivins wasn't in it for the kids, he was in it for the money," Lamberti told ESPN. He added the league was run by "coaches who are nothing more than criminals."
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South Florida authorities began investigating in 2011 after ESPN's "Outside the Lines" ran a feature on alleged gambling among the football league's coaches and officials, which included video surveillance. Their cameras captured guys in the stands flagrantly exchanging wads of cash while little kids ran around on the field below.
A detective told ESPN it was often the coaches themselves setting the point spreads on the games involving their teams. He said one coach "collected a wad of cash that he waved in front of the players indicating how much was riding on them."
There are about 6,000 children in the South Florida Youth Football League, according to the league's own website. On the front of the site is a message declaring, "The SFYFL is taking a hard stand on gambling, recruiting, paying kids to play and big hits on players. Any spectators or certified personnel caught doing any of the above should immediately be asked to leave the park."
A letterfrom the league's president says "SFYFL does not condone, nor will it tolerate, any kind of gambling."
Read more here: Coaches arrested for betting