Major League Baseball’s spring training games began within the past week, and with them came the chance to wager on such contests in Nevada, New Jersey and other places where sports betting has been legalized. But MLB would like that practice to stop, recently submitting a written request to the Nevada Gaming Control Board to take such games off the board in the state.
Its reasoning? Baseball players may not “perform at maximum effort on every single play” during spring training games, which thus “carry heightened integrity risks.” Plus, the league claims the expansion of legal sports gambling to states other than Nevada — as allowed after last year’s Supreme Court decision striking down the federal law that limited the practice — creates more chances for “integrity risks” involving spring training games.
“Spring Training games are exhibition contests in which the primary focus of Clubs and players is to prepare for the coming season rather than to win games or perform at maximum effort on every single play. These games are not conducive to betting and carry heightened integrity risks, and states should not permit bookmakers to offer bets on them,” the league said in a statement, per ESPN’s David Purdum. “Limited and historically in-person betting on Spring Training in one state did not pose nearly the same integrity risks that widespread betting on Spring Training in multiple states will pose.”
Nevada’s Gaming Control Board declined MLB’s request.
“Based on our history and experience in regulating sports wagering, we are not inclined to prohibit our licensed sports books from taking wagers on MLB Spring Training games,” it wrote in response, again according to Purdum. “We have a common goal to combat sports bribery and maintain the integrity of your sport, and are available to discuss ways we can work together in this effort.”
It was a curious request by MLB. For one, what is the difference between a spring training game — in which minor leaguers and fringe major leaguers might actually be putting forth maximum effort as they try to make the big league squad — and a September game involving two losing teams who are simply playing out the string? For another, what’s to stop a determined sports gambler from taking his or her spring training bets to offshore sportsbooks, which generally are not subject to the same amount of regulation as those in places where sports gambling has been legalized?
“I could only pause and laugh,” Jeff Sherman, vice president of risk management at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas, told VSiN’s Mitch Moss and Pauly Howard on Tuesday. “It just goes back to square one on the thinking on this stuff: It wouldn’t stop any wagering, it would drive it back to offshore and other entities, and it would serve no purpose. Things were trying to be progressive with these leagues, and this was basically a regressive step."
Further, February is not a booming month for gambling on baseball in Nevada and the sportsbooks put limits on how much can be wagered on each spring training bet, considering the uncertainty involved with such games. The chances that enough would be wagered on one spring training game to affect the outcome are small.
“The naivete out there to think you can walk up and bet whatever you want on these preseason games — we write a few hundred dollars” in such spring training bets each night, Sherman said. “And our limits are $1,000, $500 on the total. They’re so small that even if you went up and down the Strip you’re not even going to get much money to influence anything like that.”
Purdum reported Tuesday that gambling officials in Mississippi — which recently legalized sports gambling and whose casinos offer wagering on spring training games — have not received a similar request from the league. However, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board did receive such a request from MLB and has asked its sports betting operators to take spring training games off the board while it considers its options, Purdum reported.
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