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.