We end 2018 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #9: MLB embraces and monetizes gambling after almost a century of antipathy.
In the past, MLB’s antipathy to gambling was well-documented, with Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose suspended over the years by MLB commissioners. But with the rise of legalized online gambling, MLB is looking at gambling not as a threat, but an opportunity.
Gambling almost killed the game in 1919, when several Chicago White Sox players were accused of throwing the World Series in a deal arranged by notorious gangster Arnold Rothstein, a scandal that impacted the game for years before the emergence of Babe Ruth as a national hero. Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were temporarily suspended from the game by Bowie Kuhn for their roles as greeters for Atlantic City casinos. And Pete Rose was suspended for life after betting on the outcomes of games—a penalty he is still serving.
After the 1919 Black Sox scandal, baseball’s overlords took special care to disassociate the game from gambling. That resolution has changed in recent years, as Indian casinos have stepped up as major financial sponsors for MLB teams. The rationale: Indian casinos offer legalized, mainstream gambling as part of a larger entertainment offering. There is still fear of gambling affecting game results, and the Pete Rose situation is a great example. On its face, it’s hard for a single player to affect any game results, whether it be the difference between a win and a loss, the total number of runs, or the actual score of the game. Rose’s sin was to bet on the outcome of games, always (he says) betting on the Reds to win. But the flip side of that: by not betting on a Reds game, Rose was giving a clear signal to gamblers that he thought the Reds would lose.
However, 2018 will be known as the year where MLB went past its traditional distaste for gambling and embraced what many consider to be the inevitable. In a highly anticipated decision in May, the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for state-regulated sports betting, overturning a federal ban. Initially MLB and the other major sports opposed the decision, but then laid out a plan to regulate sports betting—and collecting a fee along the way. By the end of November, MLB had signed a deal with MGM Resorts International to become the sport’s first official gaming partner, sharing advanced stats exclusively with the gambling giant and working on a plan to protect the integrity of the game both on and off the field.
This is uncharted territory, to be sure. We’re seeking bookmakers open lounges at U.S. sporting facilities like the Prudential Center, home of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils. Betting won’t be allowed in this particular situation, but with the rise of online gambling, it doesn’t matter: anyone can place a bet from their phone these days. This gambling would happen with or without MLB’s participation, and the obvious decision was made to monetize the inevitable and not fight it.
Here’s our Top Ten of 2018 to date: