David Bluder’s book tells fictional story America’s best-kept secrets: sports gambling

Written by Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder’s husband David Bluder, The Great Gamble is a fictional story from the perspective of a vulnerable teenage basketball recruit and two FBI agents navigating the world of gambling in sports.



Megan Conroy, Arts Reporter

David Bluder’s debut novel The Great Gamble was released just before the NCAA decided to cancel the championship tournaments. With March Madness about to come into full swing, the release of the novel would have perfectly aligned.

The Great Gamble depicts the fictional story of a high school basketball recruit, Jason, who falls victim to the world of sports gambling corruption. The story offers two other perspectives that are weaved into the plot: one through the eyes of FBI agent Reynolds who is investigating the death of an agent, and eventually, the large web of sports corruption.

Although Bluder works as an adjunct professor, he is familiar with the world of basketball. His wife, Lisa, has coached the Iowa women’s basketball team since 2000, with a 396-217 record at Iowa.

Sports betting became legal in Iowa in August of 2019. Sports fans could bet on live games, and soon after, on apps like DraftKings.

While states have legalized some forms of sports gambling, there are other forms of gambling that are still illegal, like paying athletes or referees to point-shave during games.

“I was thinking about an NBA referee who was shaving points illegally, and actually got kicked out,” Bluder said. “He said that there were other referees doing this. But, the NBA Commissioner said this was a single incident and covered it up quickly.”

Bluder started the process of researching the incidents that followed. He looked into other sports and how they were affected by sports gambling corruption as well. From his research, the novel was born. Ten versions later, it was released on March 16.

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Bluder captures the anxiety of a teenage student-athlete beautifully. Jason is under the immense pressure of not only living the life of a gifted student-athlete but also his mother’s cancer. Coach Felter places extra pressure on him to pick UCLA for his commitment, solely because it would benefit the coach. Jason is manipulated by Ricardo Perez, as well, a cartel-affiliated agent who provides him $30,000 dollars for hospital bills. The money comes with a catch, Jason must manipulate the scores of games.

While Jason’s character is fictional, Bluder knows the lives of student-athletes pretty well.

“My wife has been coaching for so many years, I’ve really been able to understand what it’s like for a student-athlete on campus,” he said. “Even if you’re not an athlete, school is tough. Then when you pile a sport with a lot of other pressures like the media, it builds the drama and the conflicts.”

The novel unfolds almost as a movie would with its separate perspectives eventually crossing paths.

“I want people to understand that when they read this novel they’re discovering the biggest secret in sports in America. It comes to an explosive revelation at the end.” Bluder said, “I think sports fans will never be able to watch a game the same way again.”

Although the novel is a work of fiction, sports gambling is very much a reality. Today, fans can legally bet on sports from apps on their phones.

“I certainly think this could be a reality,” Bluder said. “People said I have to say this story is fiction, but a lot of it could be real.”