Major League Baseball (MLB) recently sent letters to state gaming regulators asking them to stop taking wagers on Spring Training games. The league says it is concerned is that Spring Training games are “more vulnerable to manipulation,” and therefore easier to fix for betting purposes.
Three states currently offering legal wagering on Spring Training games reacted to the letter in different ways this week:
- Pennsylvania agreed to have its sportsbooks pause taking bets on MLB Spring Training games.
- The Nevada Gaming Control Board politely told MLB to take a hike. Spring Training betting is still on.
- New Jersey is reviewing the issue while still accepting bets on games. Meanwhile, DraftKings Sportsbook kind of clowned MLB by boosting a fun Spring Training prop bet on Tim Tebow (which was later pulled).
What’s the big deal? Nevada understands the market
Believe it or not, there is a small market to bet on sporting events that don’t count toward regular season or postseason records. Preseason NFL games can have as much money wagered as a regular season MLB game. MLB Spring Training games see a fraction of what’s bet on the regular season and playoff games.
Nevada sportsbooks have somehow managed to avoid controversy for years. ESPN reports that the Nevada Gaming Control Board sent the following response to Major League Baseball:
“Based on our history and experience in regulating sports wagering, we are not inclined to prohibit our licensed sports books from taking wagers on MLB Spring Training games. We have a common goal to combat sports bribery and maintain the integrity of your sport, and are available to discuss ways we can work together in this effort.”
Sportsbooks already protect the integrity of sports betting
Nevada sportsbooks have more experience than other states on issues like this. It’s easy to use their regulations as a template for other states. Regular season and postseason games can have extraordinary betting limits above a million dollars. Maximum betting limits for Spring Training games are as low as $500-$1,000 per side or total.
Sportsbook operators in Nevada protect themselves by keeping the maximum bet limits for Spring Training games lower than most games. Making it difficult to get down big money bets is one way to keep away people looking to gain on illegal activities.
MLB wasn’t concerned when Nevada was the only state taking wagers on these games. The concern of the league now is that the repeal of PASPA means there will be more locations to wager on the games. In their eyes, more locations to wager increases the potential of unscrupulous behavior by gamblers.
Baseball is difficult to fix and Spring Training is even more difficult
Baseball is a difficult game to fix. Each team has 9 or 10 starting players. Each player in MLB this year will have a minimum salary of $555,000, according to Forbes. It’s going to take a hefty bribe to get any of these players to risk the minimum salary that might turn out to become $30 million per year like Manny Machado.
A single everyday position player won’t be able to unnoticeably change the fate in multiple games. There aren’t too many starting pitchers making the league minimum salary so that’s going to be a tough nut to crack. The lesser quality starting pitchers will be demoted if they’re not performing well so there won’t be many opportunities for the person trying to manipulate the game to win back their money.
The most mediocre relief pitchers today make more than $5 million a year. These players aren’t guaranteed to pitch during specific days. The league minimum relief pitchers might not see a game for days. Even if they’re susceptible to bribes, it’s difficult to know when to bet on their games.
Spring Training games are even more difficult to fix. Managers shuffle even more players in and out of the lineup. Even with more legal sportsbooks taking wagers, it’s going to take a lot of $500-$1,000 bets to make back whatever money is gambled.
MLB opening the door to the black market
Sports bettors have always had options on where to gamble — legal and illegal. For years, many sports bettors have used illegal and offshore sportsbooks. Some bettors will return to those bookies if MLB Spring Training games are taken off the board with legal U.S. sportsbooks.
Further, let’s say it’s possible to bribe a player, manager or umpire. Where is someone going to bet enough to make the illegal endeavor worthwhile? They’ll take the action to an illegal bookie or offshore sportsbook that might offer bigger limits without questioning their wager as U.S. sportsbooks will.
Why is MLB taking this stance?
MLB is barking up a strange tree with its stance on Spring Training games. Maybe they’re trying to “protect” the integrity so they can make more money selling data rights.
Sports fans might say MLB is dying but that’s not close to being true for the owners. According to Forbes, the only team valued under $1 billion is the Tampa Bay Rays. Thanks to TV rights and other deals the Rays still saw $23 million in operating income. The franchise is valued at $900,000,000 so let’s not shed a tear.
While the sport is no longer “America’s Pastime,” it’s still a money maker. Everything MLB does is to make more money for its owners. Whenever MLB does something that seems silly, it just makes sense to think about how they might be positioning the league to make more money for its owners.
Kyler Murray‘s NFL draft position won’t be the only thing on the line when the dynamic Heisman Trophy winner runs the 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Combine.
Thanks the expansion of legalized sports betting, this year, multiple New Jersey sportsbooks and bettors will also have money at stake on the performances of Murray and his fellow Combine participants in multiple drills.
Combine latest in non-traditional wagering events
For years, the NFL Combine has served as the proverbial oasis in the desert of the offseason for football enthusiasts.
While many of that year’s draft-eligible college prospects display their athletic wares in a multitude of drills, fans are left to dream of what could be if their favorite team nabs one of the best from the college ranks at a position of need.
On its own merits, the annual talent evaluation extravaganza does actually have some redeeming qualities. For example, there’s plenty of elite athleticism demonstrated in tests like the 40-yard dash and quarterback/receiver passing drills.
And for 16 years, the bench press test always carried a bit of extra flavor thanks to inimitable strength coach and spotter John Lott, who encouraged, cajoled and generally worked players into a lather in an attempt to squeeze every last rep out of them.
But this year, there’s the added element of intrigue that may trump all of that — cold, hard cash.
Like the just-completed Oscars and the forthcoming NFL draft, the NFL’s annual “underwear Olympics” is yet another new, rather unlikely, wagerable event this year. BetStars NJ, DraftKings Sportsbook and PointsBet have a robust selection of Combine-based wagers centered on the major drills that will be completed during the five-day period between February 28 and March 4.
Interestingly, each of the three sportsbooks is taking a slightly different tack with the type of wagers offered.
BetStars is focusing on offering odds on all-time records in each drill being eclipsed:
- 60-yard Shuttle (Shelton Gibson’s 2017 record of 10.71 seconds to be broken): No: -250/ Yes: +180
- Bench Press: (Stephen Paea’s 2011 record of 49 reps to be broken): No: -650/Yes: +400
- Broad Jump: (Byron Jones’ 2015 record of 12’3 inches to be broken): No: -500/ Yes: +333
- Vertical Jump: (Chris Conley’s 2015 record of 45.0 inches to be broken): No: -350/Yes: +235
- 40-yard Dash: (John Ross’ 2017 record of 4.22 seconds to be broken): No: -333/Yes: +240
Notably, DK is one of two New Jersey operators currently offering player-specific bets. They’ve unsurprisingly honed in on the two prize quarterbacks in this year’s draft — Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins — for one of those wagers:
40-yard Dash Prop
- Kyler Murray: Over 4.39 seconds (-125)/ Under 4.39 seconds (-106)
- Dwayne Haskins: Over 4.80 seconds (-121)/ Under 4.80 seconds (-110)
Then, the raw power of Haskins’ OSU teammate Nick Bosa, who finished his three-year college career with 29 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks over 29 games, can be wagered on as well:
Bench Press Prop
- Over 27.5 reps: -121
- Under 27.5 reps: -110
Finally, DK is also offering over/under bets on the top overall performances in each of the four most popular drills:
Fastest Overall 40-Yard Dash Time:
Over 4.29 seconds (-115)/Under 4.29 seconds (-115)
Most Bench Press Reps By a Player:
Over 40.5 (+100)/ Under 40.5 (-134)
Highest Vertical Leap By a Player:
Over 43.5 inches (-115)/ Under 43.5 inches (-115)
Longest Broad Jump By a Player:
Over 137 inches (-115)/ Under 137 inches (-115)
For its part, PointsBet is seemingly taking a cue from both of its fellow Garden State sportsbooks in terms of the variety of Combine bet types on its board.
PointsBet is offering both over/under wagers on top numbers for each individual drill and wagers on whether the all-time best performances in each of them will be eclipsed.
- Fastest 40-Yard Dash By Any Player: Over 4.29 seconds (-110)/ Under 4.29 seconds (-110)
- Highest Vertical Jump By Any Player: Over 43.5 inches (-110)/ Under 43.5 inches (-110)
- Most Bench Presses By Any Player: Over 40 reps (-110)/ Under 40 reps (-110)
- Position of Player to Record the Fastest 40-Yard Dash: DB (+100)/ WR (+125)/ RB (+175)
- Record-Breaking 40-Yard Time: Yes (+240)/ No (-334)
- Record-Breaking 60-Yard Shuttle: Yes (+180)/ No (-251)
- Record-Breaking Bench Press Reps: Yes (+400)/ No (-667)
- Record-Breaking Vertical Jump: Yes (+235)/No (-345)
- Record-Breaking Broad Jump: Yes (+333)/No (-501)
Additionally, PointsBet’s player-specific prop for the 40-yard dash actually includes several players in addition to Murray not part of DraftKings’ offerings. That list includes top prospects such as Stanford’s Bryce Love, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, and Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf:
Best 40-Time Over/Under (All odds set at -110):
- Kyler Murray: Over/Under 4.37 seconds
- Bryce Love: Over/Under 4.38 seconds
- Trace McSorley: Over/Under 4.65 seconds
- D.K. Metcalf: Over/Under 4.59 seconds