It seems like a storm in a tea cup given than fewer than an estimated 1% of regular sports bettors routinely place wagers on Spring Training baseball matches. However, there’s more to the issue than meets the eye.
Major League Baseball (MLB) recently made an official written request to state gaming regulators across the United States (in states where sports betting is legal) asking them to stop accepting wagers on Spring Training games. The MLB says that Spring Training games are possibly “more vulnerable to manipulation”, and therefore, more prone to fixing for betting purposes.
Three of the states that presently offer sports betting and have been accepting bets on the Spring Training games, reacted to the request in different ways last week:
- The Nevada Gaming Control Board in the nicest possible way suggested that the MLB was out-of-line in its request. Consequently, its game on for betting on Spring Training games in the Silver State.
- New Jersey agreed to consider the issue, however, still accepts bets on Spring Training matches in the meantime. DraftKings Sportsbook in New Jersey even went as far as poking fun at the MLB’s expense by offering a joke prop bet on Tim Tebow to hit three home runs during Spring Training. The Twitter post was later taken down, but made clear the leading sportsbook’s derision of the MLB request.
- Pennsylvania, on the other hand, agreed to have sportsbooks in the Keystone State pause accepting wagers on the MLB’s Spring Training matches.
Is the MLB Being Petty?
The biggest argument being made by the MLB is around a question of integrity, and the fear of minor league players manipulating the results for financial gain. While it’s true to say that many of baseball’s biggest stars do participate in the Spring Training games, many of the matches are played by minor league players who are looking for a spot on the roster of a Major League team.
Bryan Seeley, MLB’s deputy general counsel reaffirmed the League’s position, stating the risk of match-fixing is “particularly acute” at Spring Training time, as minor leaguers don’t make the mega-bucks of the big stars;
“Spring Training games provide greater opportunity for the misuse of inside information. The outcome of games sometimes depends heavily on non-public managerial decisions that are made in advance and are independent of Club or player performance, such as how many innings a pitcher will throw or in which inning Minor League players will replace Major League players.” he wrote in his formal letter to sports betting states.
Given that spring training games do not typically feature high-volume bets, and the exhibition contests can be tough to handicap, it does appear that the MLB is making yet another power-grab after more than 25 years of standing against the states on the subject of sports betting with their support of Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).
MLB Player Salaries too High to Accept Bribes
The MLB minimum salary is high, so an average player making the league minimum salary will not be tempted. Lesser known or lesser quality players will be demoted down if they’re not performing well. Few, if any players, on the verge of the big leagues and the multi-million-dollar contracts on offer will be tempted.
Moreover, starting rotations change often during Spring Training. In the unlikely event some players could be susceptible to bribes, it’s difficult to know when they will play and which games to bet on.
Now the MLB can officially make money from sports betting, they appear determined let the states and sports bettors know that they are the betting gatekeepers.