Pro sports leagues are asking for a fee from sportsbook operators that take wagers on their events. Regardless of what they end up calling the rights fees, the leagues stepped in a big one by bringing up the issue of integrity as a fee for their game. The states that have legalized gambling so far have disregarded this request, but the damage has started.
Most sports bettors and fans have always assumed that there was some kind of integrity in the games they bet on. Everyone expects an honest competition unless they’re watching the WWE. Bettors and fans assume that there’s a high level of integrity in sports and it would be nice if that’s the case. However, a couple of recent events remind us that not everything in sports is transparent and therefore lack total integrity:
- LeBron James mystery injury
- Julian Edelman PED suspension
- What’s a catch? What’s a charge?
LeBron James hides injury
Apparently, LeBron James was upset after an awful Game 1 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. He was so mad that he (allegedly) punched a whiteboard and possibly broke his hand. The anger is understandable and so is concealing an injury from an opponent. Teams and players often hide injuries from opponents.
Injury disclosure is a bigger deal than ever before. This kind of secrecy or gamesmanship isn’t fit for a league that wants transparency. The NBA is seeking an integrity/royalty/rights fee from sportsbook operators that take wagers on their games. As of now, they plan to offer nothing beyond the same product sportsbooks and bookies have been taking wagers on legally and illegally.
Julian Edelman suspension
Last week, the NFL suspended New England Patriots receiver Julian Edelman for the first four games of the season for PED use. Well, kinda. The positive drug test was triggered by an unrecognized substance. Nobody really knows if it was actually for a performance-enhancing drug or just something the testing company doesn’t test for. Whatever, shut him down!
Maybe Edelman is taking PEDs and maybe he’s not. It’s strange that a multi-billion dollar company isn’t able to tell what drugs or substances its players are using. If the leagues can’t be sure if the players are playing within the rules how are fans and bettors supposed to trust the league for providing events with integrity?
Jesse James touchdown that wasn’t
The Jesse James catch isn’t the first time sports fans and bettors questioned the rules and interpretation of the rules on a catch in the NFL. The non-touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the New England Patriots was the most recent head-scratching call by referees. The rules will be different next NFL season but these confusing decisions will probably continue.
There’s always conspiracies about referees. Did the league fix a game for TV ratings or did a gambler fix a side for money? It’s rare that either question is true but there’s always chatter about referees in all sports not knowing simple rules or just missing calls. Integrity and transparency have always been crucial to keeping the events appear to be fair.
Who knew what when about LeBron?
Integrity has always been important to sports. It will continue to be important when people are legally wagering on the games. The leagues say they’ve been operating legitimate events forever. If a league wants a fee for integrity they’ll have to offer it.
Disclosure of injuries – especially to a player like LeBron James – have an effect on betting the game. Evidently, a small group of people knew about the injury but didn’t tell anyone. Did they act on this with an illegal bookie? The lines in Nevada didn’t seem to be off.
Was LeBron really hurt or just making an excuse for losing? We may never know. However, NBA teams are supposed to report all injuries and the Cavaliers didn’t. Expect a fine regardless of what else is disclosed.
We live in a world of conspiracy theories and sports isn’t immune to this. Integrity has always been important and that needs to continue. The courts can decide if the leagues should be paid for doing what they say they’ve always done.
Dennis Drazin has vaulted himself from simple businessman to first-ballot hall-of-fame troll.
This weekend was supposed to be Monmouth Park’s first steps toward redemption. The New Jersey racetrack was eager to debut its luxurious William Hill sportsbook in time for Game 4 of the NBA Finals and ahead of what would become a Triple Crown champion at Belmont Stakes the following day.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, though, wasn’t quite as anxious to roll out legalized sports betting within the state’s borders Instead, Murphy was creeping down the turnpike in the left lane, 30 miles per hour below the speed limit, left blinker on. (Editor’s note: Murphy signed the bill shortly before this piece was published, but the rest of this story still applies).
Monmouth was set to open its sportsbook over this past weekend. But with Murphy hesitating on sports betting legislation, the racetrack had to suspend its sports betting plans. Fortunately for us, Drazin is our Ferris Bueller to Murphy’s Ed Rooney.
First: A primer
The 72-year-old Monmouth Park has been mired in economic woes for some time. Its purses dealt to race winners have come from the track’s own pockets, which have become so bare that the felt has been scratched through. Monmouth was primed to begin offering sports betting six or so years ago, until the sports leagues took Jersey to court, shelving Monmouth’s first attempt at an alternative source of revenue.
Drazin, president and CEO of the racetrack, was a driving force in New Jersey’s fight, which paid off in May as the US Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act to open the door for legalized sports betting. Monmouth had its second chance, and Drazin announced a partnership with British bookmaker William Hill to construct a $2.5 million sportsbook lounge.
This past weekend was rife with big-name betting opportunities: the Golden State Warriors closing out the Cleveland Cavaliers for yet another NBA title, the New York Yankees and New York Mets squaring off in an MLB Subway Series, Justify taking to Belmont to become the 13th Triple Crown winner. But Murphy was not ready to let 1,500 Ferris Bueller disciples run around and jeopardize his ability to govern the student body.
“We’re not going to sit on it, but we just got it,” Murphy said of the betting bill that sailed through the state Assembly and Senate like Usain Bolt running the 100-meter dash against middle-schoolers. “We’re going to have sports betting sooner (rather) than later in New Jersey and I’m really excited about that. I’m not going to change my stripes just because it’s a big weekend. We’ve got to make sure we do what we do right.”
Because Murphy did not sign the legislation, it was still illegal to offer sports betting. Monmouth couldn’t accept wagers until Murphy put pen to paper.
“I’m trying to get open as soon as I can,” Drazin said in response. “But at the end of the day I have a responsibility to Monmouth Park and the state and the local community. If I do something that causes Monmouth Park to get delayed in opening, then that doesn’t help anybody, so I have to respect the process.”
Which makes me wonder how much Drazin cackled after walking away from this interview, because while Murphy barred Drazin’s plans to roll out sports betting, the Monmouth CEO could not be stopped from trotting out Sports Betting.
Debut victory for colt, Drazin, everyone
When sports betting is ultimately legalized in New Jersey, a plaque with Drazin’s likeness should grace the front doors of every sportsbook in New Jersey.
In Monmouth Park’s first race Sunday was a 2-year-old colt owned by Drazin: Sports Betting.
Instead of giving a rudimentary play-by-play of what happened next, let’s bring in Monmouth Park track announcer Frank Mirahmadi to set the scene for the finish of the $36,000 maiden special weight race:
“A sixteenth to go, and it’s Sports Betting (ridden by) Paco Lopez. We salute Dennis Drazin. An amazing job getting Sports Betting home.”
Oh, yeah. Chick. Chicka chicka.
Major League Baseball and the NBA sometimes have to twist themselves into knots to explain what they want from legal US sports betting, and why they want it.
But the MLB has done a pretty big flip-flop in recent years on the need to cooperate with sports betting regulators when it comes to sharing information.
What the MLB said recently
MLB’s most recent plan of attack is to say Nevada sports betting regulation is really, really bad, a take so horrible that it has no basis in reality. Nevada has been doing this for decades, and there’s little evidence that state officials have done anything other than a superb job overseeing the industry.
But that’s not the subject of this story. We’re more concerned here with what the MLB said about “cooperation.” Here’s MLB executive Brian Seeley, in talking to Reuters:
Australia is a world benchmark for the industry, he said, because “there is the most cooperation and coordination between sports leagues, the regulator and bookmakers.”
“You can say that you care about integrity too,” Seeley said of bookmakers. “But when you turn around and oppose any requirement that you let the leagues know about integrity problems, it is hard for me to believe you.”
If you’re following along, MLB is saying YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WORK WITH THEM if you care at all about sports, betting, starving children around the world, endangered animals, etc. OK, maybe not those last two. But the point remains, MLB is painting a doomsday scenario if you don’t listen to them.
Got that? OK, hold on.
Let’s rewind a bit, to see what the MLB was telling us less than six years ago about sports betting.
Here’s Tom Ostertag, former MLB general counsel, in a deposition he gave for the first iteration of the federal sports betting case, NCAA vs. Christie, in 2012. (The state of New Jersey won the second and more-recent version of the case in the US Supreme Court.)
“We think the idea that any sportsbook can be helpful to us, again, is completely incorrect. It’s almost like saying we’ll create a problem and then we’ll tell you about it. And how does that benefit us?”
We’re not sure what we’re supposed to take away from this, as Seeley’s recent comments are a 180-degree change from Ostertag’s. Was the MLB admitting it was entirely wrong then, and it’s seen the light? Is cooperation not that important, and the MLB is just pretending it is now?
Likely, it’s the former, as the leagues have evolved their stances a lot in recent years. But still going from “LOL at cooperation with sportsbooks” to “integrity can’t happen without cooperation” is like putting a car in reverse while going 100 miles per hour.
Have fun squaring this latest bit of hypocrisy, MLB.