Opening Day in Major League Baseball (MLB) has long been romanticized, credited with evoking a number of sensory delights — the sharp crack of the bat, the resounding pop of the ball in the glove, the smell of fresh popcorn and peanuts in the stands and freshly cut grass on the field.
This year, may we suggest the decidedly more cynical “whiff of duplicitousness” as a nominee for the season-opening lexicon?
Parlays and props soon to be part of America’s favorite pastime?
From a purist’s point of view, the advent of the 2018 baseball season is much like any other. However, there’s an added layer or two of intrigue from those in the sports betting realm.
There’s a legitimate possibility that U.S. residents in certain states besides Nevada could be placing wagers on the sport long before the regular season concludes at the end of September. That, of course, would only come to fruition if there’s a full repeal of PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in Murphy vs. NCAA.
Moreover, MLB would presumably be profiting from each of those wagers in states where it’s able to successfully shoehorn an integrity fee into legislation. There’s already been plenty of outcry from states and gaming operators who view such a fee as a thinly veiled effort at simply collecting a trumped-up royalty for the mere existence of the games being bet on.
Contrasting stances between DFS and sports betting
The whole issue brings to mind another real-money gaming activity with an abundance of gambling-related aspects that MLB has been heavily immersed in for years. One that they’ve never made the slightest public rumbling about any type of integrity fee for, most likely because they’re already profiting from it in other ways – daily fantasy sports (DFS).
MLB’s multi-level relationship with DFS industry leader DraftKings includes the following:
- MLB has owned an equity stake in DraftKings since 2013
- Multi-year sponsorship deal in place since 2015 that made DK the “Official Daily Fantasy Game” of MLB, as well as an official sponsor of All-Star week and “select Postseason events”
- A total of 27 MLB teams also have individual sponsorship deals in place with DK.
Naturally, MLB-themed DFS contests are also offered on essentially every other U.S.-based DFS platform in addition to DK, regardless of market share. FanDuel and DraftKings are offering Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs) with $100,000 top prizes for Opening Day, as well as a multitude of contests with smaller but nevertheless formidable prize pools. The same will hold true for virtually every other day of MLB season.
No “integrity monitoring” needed with DFS?
Yet despite the substantial amount of money at play in DFS on baseball daily – much as there would be with sports betting — there’s never been a peep from MLB in terms of DFS contests potentially compromising the integrity of the game on the field. Or, for that matter, the need for an ongoing revenue stream to fund a monitoring system to guard against this.
In fact, commissioner Rob Manfred notably came to the defense of the industry — making a point to say it was distinctly different from gambling — in the thick of the legal maelstrom that engulfed it in the fall of 2015.
Likewise, nary a whisper with respect to any type of royalty-type compensation owed by operators for raking in millions in entry fees on contests based on MLB games. Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but the fact the league’s and individual team’s pockets are already being lined through the aforementioned agreements seems like an excellent place to start when trying to unravel this “mystery”.
Increasingly more alike than different
Some would argue that sports betting and DFS remain two distinctly different animals. As a result, they say, those wagering significant sums of cash on the outcome of an entire game – as opposed to those betting on the performances of individual players spread out over multiple games – are much more likely to have a corruptive influence on those that could help sway certain outcomes.
That position has some merit – with varying degree – in certain sports. Between MLB, the NFL, the NHL and NBA, it’s been the latter that’s always been believed to be the most susceptible to game fixing. The infamous Tim Donaghy scandal of the previous decade is one fitting example where manipulation of the point spread was at play.
However, the theory is on an increasingly slippery slope overall, thanks to DFS becoming much cozier with traditional sports betting elements in recent years:
- FanDuel and DraftKings offer single-game slates for MLB, meaning significant amounts of money are riding on the individual player performances of one particular game.
- Sites like Boom Fantasy and USFantasy incorporate what are essentially traditional individual player prop bets with a fantasy scoring component attached.
In other words, the amount of overlap between sports betting and DFS is becoming increasingly noticeable in certain respects. Consequently, MLB’s position that the former requires a whole different level of oversight – one that can only be maintained from raking in millions upon millions from each state’s sportsbooks — is an increasingly difficult one to argue with a straight face.
Would partnership/sponsorship agreements make integrity fees disappear?
Ultimately, the urgency for an integrity fee would likely dissipate if sportsbooks were able to strike partnership agreements with MLB as well. That might seem like a far-fetched idea, given the distance all the pro sports leagues have traditionally kept from sports betting. And while there have been relatively seismic shifts in those positions recently, it’s still a bit of a stretch to envision any establishment being labeled as the “official sportsbook partner of MLB” in their state, for example.
Or is it? Interestingly, DK’s recent signaling of its full intention of entering the sports betting realm would automatically make MLB a minority owner in one such enterprise. That in itself sums up how entangled the whole issue is – and could become – in a potential future legalized sports betting environment.