Leagues Pulling Out New Stops In Fight For Favorable Sports Betting Legislation

Juan Carlos Blanco April 30, 2018
Sports Betting

“Post-truth” is often bandied about these days to sum up our overall state of affairs. A cousin of “surreal”, the term intends to aptly describe the many things we read and witness that base reality on anything other than objective facts.

Most of what boggles the rational mind these days emanates from the political arena. The epidemic seems to be pervasively seeping into other areas, as well. For example, the entire legalized sports betting discussion – which offers a fair share of political theater in its own right  – has recently produced a couple of “WTF” moments that stretch the limits of credulity.

One of those moments involved representatives from the pro sports leagues meeting with the very New Jersey lawmakers they’ve been an expensive thorn in the side of for years. As was previously reported, the state has already incurred nearly $9 million in legal fees as a result of their years-long legal battle with the leagues in Murphy vs. NCAA.

The central theme of those discussions caused a fair share of double-takes: The leagues were asking the Garden State to fall in line and agree to give up significant portions of any future sports betting revenue to those that have bled them dry while fighting against them on that very issue.

All hands on deck

Another moment unfolded approximately a couple of hundred miles away in Connecticut, where Constitution State legislators were paid a visit by former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell and 19-year major-league hurler Al Leiter last Tuesday. The rub? The pair of ex-players – both prominent in the Northeast for their athletic exploits – were representing the NBA and MLB in the capacity of legalized sports betting supporters. That sentence that would have been virtually unthinkable as recently as last fall.

A bit eye-popping on its face, the scenario somehow makes perfect sense in the bizarro-like environment engendered by the Supreme Court’s decision in June 2017 to hear Murphy vs. NCAA. Before oral arguments in the case appeared to heavily go in favor of New Jersey last Dec. 4, the leagues remained confidently entrenched in the anti-sports betting position that defined their role as defendants.

Fast forward a few months, and it looks like there’s little they won’t do to ensure a significant stake in future sports betting proceeds. That clearly now includes holding Old Timer’s Day at state capitols as needed.

In Connecticut, where a representative of the state’s Lottery Corporation recently testified that the entity is “ready to operate sports betting”S540  is the Senate sports betting bill under consideration. With the proposed legislation containing several of the leagues’ pet provisions, the NBA and MLB are naturally pushing for it to advance.

No shortage of irony in latest strategy

The whole scene is particularly ironic considering the two leagues involved. Each has a prominent case in its relatively recent past that culminated in the ostracizing of a former employee due to sports betting-related infractions:

  • Pete Rose, a surefire MLB Hall of Famer if not for his documented sports betting activity while serving as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, remains banned from Cooperstown. The overriding reason is his corroborated wagering on baseball – including most notably, his own team – but he was also shunned for gambling on sports in general.
  • Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy was eventually discovered to have bet on games – including those he was officiating — during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, and to have directly made calls to influence the point spread.

Granted, the conduct in those situations was undeniably actionable. The leagues would argue that having ex-players support a regulated, legalized sports betting environment is therefore comparing apples and oranges. While they’d be right in one sense, the non-post-truth version of the truth is they wouldn’t be pushing for any type of legalized sports betting — much less trotting out alumni in front of lawmakers — if they didn’t see a monetization opportunity.

The deployment of past stars is just one aspect of what’s generally regarded as a serious case of duplicitousness on the part of the NBA and MLB with sports betting. Yes, the two leagues’ “epiphany” represents an improvement over their previous approach. However, they’re also asking states to turn a blind eye to the past and accept a new “truth” based on fear — the integrity of the games being wagered on will be at stake unless they subsidize a comprehensive monitoring system.

And if Rose is seen schmoozing with Ohio lawmakers someday on Rob Manfred’s behalf, we’re going to need a new catchphrase – “post-truth” ain’t gonna be the half of it.