Kobritz: MLB tries to stay ahead of possible issues from gambling
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal statute that limited state-sponsored sports betting to a handful of states. Since the ruling, seven states — Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia — have approved sports betting, with more to follow.
Professional sports leagues and the NCAA have been trying to navigate the new landscape on two fronts: attempting to generate revenue from the emerging gambling market while at the same time protecting the integrity of the game. With the 2019 season about to begin, Major League Baseball is the first league to confront those issues.
To address the second issue, MLB is making changes to its pregame protocol. For the first time in game’s history, clubs will be required to submit starting lineups to the commissioner’s office at least 15 minutes before they are made public. Starting lineups will be released to sportsbooks first by the league. The goal is to reduce the value of inside information and to add uniformity to how such information - and more importantly, data - is disseminated.
Teams have traditionally posted lineups in the clubhouse and then either released them on their own social media accounts, or allowed beat writers to release them through their media outlets. Under the new procedure, teams can continue releasing lineups in their preferred manner, but must wait a minimum of 15 minutes after providing them to the commissioner’s office.
In announcing the new procedure, MLB released a statement which said in part, “… we now ask Clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’ This approach mirrors those of international sports leagues in more developed betting markets.”
The new procedure has prompted a number of questions, including: Will it accomplish the goal of protecting the integrity of the game or serve as a precursor to scandal? Will gamblers try to cultivate “sources” to gain insider information — e.g., who isn’t feeling well, is a reliever unavailable that day - that will give them an edge?
To capitalize on the potentially significant revenue to be generated from legalized sports betting, MLB recently agreed to a wide-ranging partnership with sports data intelligence provider Sportradar. The deal will allow official real-time statistics to be distributed to sportsbooks in regulated jurisdictions. Players have voiced disappointment over the deal, arguing their statistics belong to them and therefore they should receive a cut of the revenue.
In November, baseball signed an agreement with MGM Resorts, making the casino the first “official gaming and entertainment partner of MLB.” A provision in the agreement gives MGM sportsbooks access to MLB’s official data feed. The Red Sox followed that announcement with a deal of their own with MGM, which recently opened a casino in Springfield, Massachusetts.
A century after the Black Sox scandal MLB’s goal of generating revenue from gambling is well on its way to being successful. However, the fear persists that cozying up to the gambling industry may cost MLB its integrity.
Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.