Is MLB’s Request To Ban Spring Training Bets Really About Money?

Written By Martin Derbyshire on March 4, 2019

Witnessing Major League Baseball try to flex its muscles on the emerging legal US sports betting industry last week smacks of the same type of hypocrisy we’ve seen from major sports leagues before.

Just last summer, the leagues showed up with their hands out only weeks after losing their battle to prevent states from legalizing sports betting.

First, they wanted an integrity fee; then it was that sportsbooks should buy league data. Both were presented as the only way to protect the integrity of sports across this great nation.

Both also ignored the fact the integrity of US sports has been called into question less than a handful of times in history — only once since the dawn of legal sports betting in Nevada, and perhaps only one other time since the rise of the billion dollar illegal online offshore sports betting industry.

The Black Sox, Boston college basketball, and NBA referee Tim Donaghy scandals notwithstanding, performance-enhancing drugs and head injuries have been much bigger issues for major US sports leagues than gambling and match-fixing.

To be fair, legal sports betting is the only one of these issues the leagues see the possibility of gaining profit. So, who can really blame them for going after it?

Let’s be thankful no state has yet to back this obvious cash grab. Although, some still weighing the possibility of legalizing sports betting are reportedly considering giving in.

MLB flexes its muscles

This latest move from MLB isn’t exactly a cash grab, but it is baseball trying to hold the fledgling legal sports betting industry under its mitt-sized thumb.

Recently, MLB officials asked states to stop sportsbooks in their jurisdictions from taking bets on spring training games.

Apparently, most MLB teams are more concerned with player development and training than they are winning. Therefore, the league thinks spring training games could be more easily compromised.

Nevada replied by saying its sportsbooks have been taking bets on spring training games for decades with no issues. Therefore, it will continue to allow it.

New Jersey is reportedly still considering MLB’s request. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania decided to acquiesce.

In the aftermath of Nevada’s decision to hold firm, MLB issued the following statement to ESPN:

“Limited and historically in-person betting on spring training in one state did not pose nearly the same integrity risks that widespread betting on spring training in multiple states will pose.”

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Less about integrity, more about money

One would think that MLB would take on the responsibility of ensuring the integrity of its own games. Most people would agree it’s the league’s job to educate its players about the issue. In fact, it’s the league’s responsibility to help protect those players and their integrity.

The thing is, this is so obviously less about integrity than it is about money. This is the league leaning on states to do its bidding, and exerting control over US sports betting operators.

Instead of handling it themselves, MLB has decided to put this on states and sportsbooks. Now, the countdown is on as to when they will attach a dollar figure to it. Can another demand for an integrity fee to help cover the cost of policing spring training games be far off?

Let’s set the over/under on the MLB Winter Meetings in December 2019. Which, by the way, the MLB held in Las Vegas last year.

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Martin Derbyshire

Martin Derbyshire has more than ten years of experience reporting on the poker, online gambling, and land-based casino industries for a variety of publications including Bluff Magazine, PokerNews, and PokerListings. He has traveled extensively, attending tournaments and interviewing major players in the gambling world.

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