Baseball’s new gambling dimension

THE JONNY GOULD COLUMN

Over a year ago my dear friend Joao da Mata – the Godfather of the International Racing Club – invited me to put pen to paper as a regular contributor to this Newsletter. At the time I was sitting at home getting fat, feeling sorry for myself as Covid ransacked my career and my finances. What has followed has been 39 articles of self-indulgent out-pourings based loosely round how useless I am.

I’ve loved every minute. But as I sat down to pen Article Number 40 I realised that my original remit – as the Voice of Baseball – has clearly got laryngitis. So in a desperate effort to justify my fee, I propose today to talk about both Baseball AND gambling. You lucky readers – it’s two for the price of one.

Until recently baseball’s relationship with gambling has been akin to most men’s relationship with masturbation. We all know it’s happening – regularly – but no one wants to admit to it or discuss it. And God forbid you get caught doing it. Consider the irony of that. Baseball has every reason to be ashamed of its original sin – segregation and racism – yet has been far more aggressive to oppose its secondary sin that was gambling.

The Black Sox scandal — which was only one of many gambling scandals — is why Baseball has a Commissioner, and why Shoeless Joe Jackson isn’t in the Hall of Fame. It’s why Pete Rose has been persona non grata in baseball circles for 30 years. It’s why legends Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were banned from the game for a time in the early 80s. Baseball has, at various times, weathered drug and cheating scandals — and it made it through two World Wars — but it has always feared and punished gambling as if it was the ultimate offense to the integrity of the sport.

Well, until 2018, anyway. On May 14 of that year the United States Supreme Court struck off a law that outlawed sports gambling in nearly every state. The ruling began the process of legalized sports gambling spreading all over the US. It also resulted in a very strange new world for Major League Baseball.

The now dead law was known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). Only the State of Nevada was exempt from its reach. The State of New Jersey looked to change that in 2009 so challenged PASPA as unconstitutional. And of course they were right. In anticipation of that, several states began drafting sports gambling laws that could be ready by the time the ruling negated the ban. The leagues — including Major League Baseball — at first took the side of the federal government in fighting the lawsuit. Later, however, when it became likely that the states challenging the law would win, they switched sides and did whatever they could to have a role in — and to get a cut of — the new action.

Throughout 2018 Major League Baseball pressured state legislatures to give them a percentage of sports gambling proceeds, premised on shaky “intellectual property rights” and vague references to a need to protect the sport’s “integrity.” In reality it was just a shakedown – or rather, an attempted shakedown. No states bit, leaving Major League Baseball on the outside looking in when it came to being included in gambling regulatory schemes.

That led to a change in tactics by MLB and its Commissioner Rob Manfred. If they couldn’t seek rents from governments’ gambling proceeds, they’d take their cut from the source by partnering up with casinos. So in late November of 2018, MGM Resorts became the first ever “Official Gaming Partner of Major League Baseball.” It’s probably no coincidence that the 2018 Winter Meetings took place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas right after that.

What that practically meant was that MGM Resorts began to advertise its many casinos and resorts on MLB Network, MLB.com, the MLB At Bat app etc. MGM, in turn, was given access to MLB’s official statistics for its online and casino-based sports books. That included “enhanced statistics” given to MGM on an exclusive basis. In short MGM’s oddsmakers, in exchange for giving a bunch of money to Major League Baseball, now gets the sort of information that will, presumably, help them set better and more action-inducing odds.

TO BET OR NOT TO BET ON BASEBALL: Hey, what the heck, why not?

Not everyone is a fan of this new relationship. Many Baseball traditionalists eye the gambling companies as a child eyes their father’s new girlfriend – with suspicion and concern. Will she have his best interests at heart, or will she look to undermine their relationship with their Dad? Personally I think this development was inevitable, but that doesn’t make it necessarily a good relationship for MLB, and I also expect some hiccups along the way.

Players, coaches, and umpires will rightly still be banned from betting on baseball, due to legitimate concerns about the competitive integrity of the game. But also with far more opportunities to bet on sports, there will be far more opportunities for those rules to be broken. MLB and the owners still run the Minor Leagues as their own personal Serfdom with wages to match. I have very real concerns that this reality creates the perfect storm for a Minor League player to throw games or otherwise look to influence outcomes, in return for a financial reward. Or, if it is found that a player is making bets, that he could be easily blackmailed.

Whatever comes of this it’s quite a change for baseball. In the space of just a few years MLB has gone from harshly punishing any player or team or league employee from merely associating with casinos, to climbing into bed with the odds-setters themselves. Will it end in tears? Probably. But while we all ponder that thought, here’s “Honest Jonny G” the Bookmaker’s tips for the 2022 season.

AMERICAN LEAGUE:                                          NATIONAL LEAGUE:

NL East:          NY Yankees (1/2)                          NL East:                NY Mets (4/9)

AL Central:     Minnesota Twins (7/4)                    NL Central:    St. Louis Cards (9/4)

AL West:         Houston Astros (1/2)                     NL West:    San Diego Padres (7/2)

6-Fold Accumulator: 130/1

WORLD SERIERS:             NY Yankees (15/2) v NY Mets (8/1) = Subway Series.

W/S VALUE BETS:             SD Padres 14/1, SF Giants 18/1 or St. Louis Cards 30/1

SEASON HR CHAMP:        Yordan Alvarez (7/1) or Jose Ramirez (20/1)

Until next time!  – IRC.

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