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Bet on Olympic athletes? This way, it's OK

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
updated 11:06 AM EST, Thu February 9, 2012
Khadevis Robinson leads the pack in June at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Oregon.
Khadevis Robinson leads the pack in June at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Oregon.
  • lets anyone bet on an Olympic athlete's performance
  • All money wagered goes to a charity that the competitor has chosen
  • 2004 Olympics runner Khadevis Robinson among athletes participating

(CNN) -- There are few topics in sport more taboo than betting. Ask baseball's Pete Rose.

But a new organization is wagering that it's not only possible to openly bet on Olympic athletes, you can raise money for charity at the same time., founded by Auburn University track and field alums, allows anyone to select from a roster of Olympic hopefuls who've agreed to let their performance be bet on. All money wagered will go to the charity of the athlete's choice. It's a first of its kind concept that's sure to generate attention as the summer London 2012 Games draw closer.

It appears to have no opposition. Even the United States Olympics Committee thinks the idea is not betting, technically, and wouldn't fly in the face of Olympic rules.

"On the surface, it seems to be a site dedicated to helping charities raise money, which we would obviously have no problem with," USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said.

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When Khadevis Robinson agreed to participate, the four-time U.S. running champion who competed at the 2004 Olympic Games spent a long time doing his homework about the organization.

"The more I learned about this idea, it just seemed like a win-win," he said.

Starting in June, anyone can bet on whether Robinson will score a spot at the Olympics when he competes at qualifying trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Here's how it works: You could bet any amount (say, $75) that Khadevis will make the team or that he'll go "vver." Or, you can bet any amount (say, $10) on the "under," meaning he won't make the team. If Khadevis qualifies, all $75 goes to his charity, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. If he has a bad day, his charity will get only the amount you wagered against him.

Don't feel like betting anything if he doesn't make it? Put a zero in that "under" wager box.

"It would be nice if no one bet against me, but no matter what -- for or against -- it's the same motivation because I know people are involved in my performance," Robinson said. "The Boys & Girls club in Fort Worth, Texas, helped me out a lot growing up. I didn't have much, and I really depended on that place to keep me focused. I feel like it's almost something I couldn't turn away from if I had the chance, and it's innocent betting."

Other Olympic hopefuls who've signed up with include sprinter Walter Dix, who finished second to Usain Bolt in the 100 and 200 meters in world championships this summer, and runner Justin Gatlin, who took gold at the 2004 Olympics. Gamblers will be able to bet whether they'll make the Olympic trials in Oregon as well, Charitybets co-founder Dave Maloney said.

The 32-year-old started Charitybets with Marc Hodulich, 31, a fellow former Auburn track teammate; both are the sons of breast cancer survivors. After graduation, the two took jobs in New York and worked with a lot of Wall Street go-getters with well-worn gym memberships who did triathlons and other weekend amateur events. They began brainstorming about how to inspire pros and weekend warriors to raise money for worthy causes.

The friends started Charitybets in November. The first competitor who signed with them was Michael Stember, a former NCAA All-American runner from Stanford University who represented the U.S. at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Stemper is a retired runner but agreed to run a Thanksgiving 5K last year to raise money for a charity he selected.

"We saw from Michael that we had interest and concept that worked logistically," Maloney said. "Naturally, we wanted to take it to the biggest playing field possible."

2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi worked with Charitybets in January before competing at U.S. marathon trials in Houston.

Keflezighi set a place-based goal. The over/under on him was based on whether he finished the marathon in the top three.

The 36-year-old won the trial with a time of 2:09:08, setting a personal best by 5 seconds.

He signed up with Charitybets about two weeks before competing. Few people knew about it, but he still raised $1,000 for the Meb Foundation, which promotes health and fitness, according to his brother and manager, Merhawi Keflezighi.

The American distance star is considering teaming again with Charitybets at the London games.

"Anytime you can get spectators to invest in the race, in any way, it's exciting," Merhawi Kaflezighi said. "Once people understand the idea, I can't imagine anyone not getting behind it."

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