Commissioner Rob Manfred Says MLB Baseball Will Give Sports Betting “Fresh Consideration”
The new Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, said in an ESPN “Outside The Lines” interview that his sport has to give “fresh consideration” to legalized sports betting. The MLB commissioner, speaking in one of his first public interviews since taking over the position on January 25, says that the American League and National League owners should discuss the issue. In a revealing moment, he said his biggest challenge as new commissioner was talking to owners about betting.
Rob Manfred told ESPN, “Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization and I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.”
Dramatic Shift in MLB’s Attitude
Manfred’s position does not go nearly as far as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver did when Silver called for federal legislation, but his words represent a dramatic shift for America’s pasttime. Of all the sports leagues, Major League Baseball has taken the hardest line of all against sports gambling. ABC News described baseball’s attitude as one of “utter disdain“.
That is somewhat understandable, since Major League Baseball has dealt with more high-profile sports betting scandals than NFL football, NBA basketball, or NHL hockey.
Black Sox Scandal
In 1919, the Chicago White Sox agreed to lose the World Series, in what is now known as the Black Sox Scandal. Shoeless Joe Jackson and 7 other members of the team were banned from baseball for life for their role in the scandal.
Though Shoeless Joe Jackson gave testimony that he took $5,000 from the fixers, he later recanted that testimony and protested his innocence the remaining 30 years of his life. For his part, Joe Jackson hit .375 for the series, had a World Series record 12 hits, committed no errors, and threw one runner out at the plate.
Pete Rose Scandal
In August 1989, three years after retirement as an active player, Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from baseball for betting on MLB baseball games. Under terms of the deal, then-Commissioner Bart Giamatti agreed to review the case after 1 year, but never reinstated Rose.
Lawyer John M. Dowd was hired to investigate the charges. The Dowd Report indicated that Rose bet on baseball games from 1985 to 1987, for sums which ranged between $2,000 and $10,000 a game. The Dowd Report also showed that Rose bet on 52 Cincinnati Reds games in 1987.
Though the report stated he never bet against the Reds, John Dowd in a December 2002 interview that he believed Pete Rose had done just that. Rose continues to maintain his innocence on any bets involving Reds games, though he agreed at the time there were factual reasons he was banned from baseball. Pete Rose continues to be banned from the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite being the all-time hits leader in the sport.
Recent Commissioners Against Gambling
Under the circumstances, Major League Baseball’s commissioners have maintained a rigid stance against sports betting. In fact, Rob Manfred mentioned in his interview the little-known fact that the Office of the Commissioner was created by baseball owners to deal with the Black Sox Scandal.
In 2012, then-Commissioner Bud Selig said in court that he was “appalled” that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was trying to legalize sports betting in his state. (For his part, David Stern said New Jersey’s attempt was “stupid”.) At present, Major League Baseball has joined with the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA in filing a second lawsuit against New Jersey, which is once again trying to legalize sportsbooks.
Times Are Changing
Commissioner Manfred acknowledged that the social and political landscape is quickly changing. Sports gambling is a great deal more socially acceptable now than it was in previous generations. Gambling in general is on the rise. With most U.S. states sanctioning lottery betting in order to fund school systems and over 40 states hosting private and tribal casinos within their borders, gambling is virtually everywhere.
Americans accept gambling, and sports leagues are showing signs they are more accepting–despite the lawsuits. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who took over for David Stern in February 2014, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times calling for federal regulation of sports betting–essentially calling for legalization at the national level. His concern in the lawsuit isn’t a ban, but a patchwork of laws that would come from each of the 50 states determining their own laws on the subject.
DraftKings Daily Fantasy Sports Deal
Even under Bud Selig, Major League Baseball has been moving towards acceptance of sports betting. In the spring of 2014, Major League Baseball signed a contract with DraftKings to make that daily fantasy sports site the “official mini fantasy game of MLB.com.”
With two of the three biggest sports associations in the United States receiving new commissioners within the last calendar year, it appears that the sports leagues will not always support the PASPA. The most important player in the game is the National Football League. Football betting still accounts for about half of the legal sports betting in the USA each year. But Commissioner Roger Goddell is himself embattled, so it is possible new leadership might come to the NFL in the near-future, too.
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