The MLB's Stance On Sports Betting
Major League Baseball has been among the more tight-lipped sports leagues when discussing the overturning of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA, 1992), and it remains unclear exactly what the MLB’s stance on sports betting actually is going forward. So far, they have not made specific demands the way the NFL and NBA have, nor do they seem to be advocating for the same kind of federal standards (i.e. another federal sports betting law to replace PASPA) that those other leagues have been openly calling for.
When PASPA was overturned by the US Supreme Court on May 14, 2018, the MLB simply issued a brief statement, shedding limited light on their actual plans to monetize the newfound legal sports betting industry. The following is the operative portion of the MLB’s most recent statement re sports betting being legalized at the federal level:
"… As each state considers whether to allow sports betting, we will continue to seek the proper protections for our sport, in partnership with other professional sports. ... We will continue to support legislation that creates air-tight coordination and partnerships between the state, the casino operators and the governing bodies in sports toward that goal."
From the above quote, it is difficult to tell whether or not the MLB supports federal sports betting regulations. While they mention “coordination and partnerships between the state,” this could mean that the league is satisfied to work with each state on an individual basis, which would be the ideal course (particularly where the 10th Amendment is concerned).
However, the MLB also claims to be working closely in concert with “other professional sports,” meaning that if the herd pushes for federal regulations, Major League Baseball will probably go along with it.
The one and only aspect of legalized sports betting that seems to prevail in the minds of the folks running the MLB is that – so far – the league seems to be on board with the NBA’s suggestion of a legislated “integrity fee.” However, that fee is currently being suggested as 1% of the total handle that any sportsbook turns, which actually works out to about 20% of the profit an average sportsbook is expected to make.
Such a fee is completely unrealistic financially, and many bettors will continue doing business with offshore legal sportsbooks where they can get far better odds. After all, if a US-based legal sportsbook needs to charge -120 on an average runline instead of -110, that’s a significant reason for WV residents to stick with existing West Virginia sportsbooks like Bovada, BetOnline, SportsBetting, BetDSI, 5Dimes, and other top providers.
Instead of the MLB and other sports leagues helping bring back all the money that Americans spend with overseas books, they might actually be encouraging the practice more than ever by making it economically infeasible to wager on sports stateside.
The integrity fee that the major sports leagues (sans the NFL) are looking at has found a foothold in the mind of MLB vice president Bryan Seeley, who has been traveling the US visiting with different state legislatures. Seeley outlines his justification for such a fee thus:
"It is reasonable for those who reap the profits to compensate the sports league in recognition of the billions of dollars the leagues invest to create a compelling product...As well as the risk to reputation and integrity that accompanies sports betting."
Seeley and other MLB executives have also been floating the idea of a reduced integrity fee of “just” 0.25% of the total sports betting handle, but even that represents a 5% reduction in sportsbook profits, on top of what they already will have to pay per various states’ sports betting taxation rules.
While that’s certainly a less onerous request, any shortfall would still be passed on to gamers themselves, who will continue to compare US-based solutions with the prices and services offered by legal offshore sportsbooks.
Even though there is a lot of nuance and intricacy when gauging whether you should take a deposit bonus or not, it’s actually pretty simple for 99% of sports bettors. If you’re going to stick around at your West Virginia sportsbook of choice for a long time and bet on sports on a daily or near-daily basis, you will probably meet the bonus rollover requirements.
Additionally, if you’re a high roller and commonly place hundred-dollar bets instead of one-dollar bets, you’ll also likely hit your rollover in a reasonable amount of time. These are the instances that it makes sense to take deposit bonuses.
Interestingly, the main thrust of Major League Baseball’s lobbying has been limited to West Virginia, which has basically become MLB’s Ground Zero for sports betting laws. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred even pressured WV governor Jim Justice into vetoing HB 415, the state’s newly enacted sports betting omnibus. While Justice did not veto the law (which was veto-proof anyways), he also abstained from signing the bill.
By WV legal statutes, the law was technically enacted by the will of congress and is now in the books. The MLB’s tactics didn’t work in the comparatively small West Virginia market, but they have certainly used the experience to refine their argument when presenting them to larger venues.
There are a few obvious problems with the MLB’s stance on sports betting. First and foremost, as with all leagues, is their assertion that they must now go full-speed-ahead on an “integrity” program to look out for match-throwing and price-fixing, even though the sports betting black and gray markets in America already account for between $300 billion and $500 billion in yearly handle.
The notion that a legalized, regulated, licensed sports betting industry will welcome more fraud and be more difficult to police than the existing black/gray market sports betting industry is patently illogical, and if the leagues weren’t concerned about fraud affecting their games before, why should they be any more concerned now, when conducting that fraud is going to be many times more difficult than before?
Secondly, the belief that the MLB itself is entitled to compensation from the new American sports betting industry – when it has never sought compensation from the existing sports betting industries in Nevada and the rest of the world (particularly the UK) – is more than a bit disingenuous. It seems like nothing more than a money-grab, which would be fine if there were valid justification for it. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be.
Finally, the league’s inability to think for itself and come up with a way to capitalize on sponsorship and other partnership opportunities with US-based sportsbooks and betting shops speaks to a desire to strong-arm the sports betting industry via consortium, much the same way the unconstitutional and catastrophic PASPA was passed a quarter-century ago.
After all, even if the MLB’s stance on sports betting was to do absolutely nothing and let the chips fall where they may, the league is still looking at dramatically increased audience interest and ad revenue, which will earn them billions of dollars going forward. The fact that they aren’t pushing their own brand power to further monetize sports betting without crippling the bookmaking business with expensive regulations and fees is truly baffling.