New MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred seems to be taking a different approach from his predecessor in many ways, but one interesting development is possible policy shift in regards to the league's stance on sports gambling. For a long time, the league has taken staunch opposition to efforts to legalize sports gambling in states like Iowa and New Jersey. However, there may be signs that the league will at least reconsider its opposition in the wake of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's support of legal sports gambling.
Gambling has been involved with baseball almost since the day the sport was invented. In 1877, four Louisville Grays players were suspended by the club, accused of throwing games, leading to Louisville to drop out of the National League. An umpire reportedly rejected a bribe to fix the 1908 World Series, and some suspected the Philadelphia Athletics of throwing the 1914 World Series and the New York Giants of throwing the 1917 World Series.
In 1919, the biggest black eye the sport has seen came to fruition when eight members of the Chicago White Stockings were accused of throwing the World Series in the "Black Sox Scandal", leading to their permanent banishment from the game. Following that devastating scandal to the sport, baseball took a hard-line against gambling, suspending players even known to meet with legal gambling officials. It was not actual gambling that was so damaging to the sport, it was just the perception itself by fans that gambling was involved that was damaging.
Manager Leo Durocher was suspended for a year for being suspected of meeting with noted gamblers. Legends Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were temporarily banned from baseball for serving as greeters at a legally-operating casino after their playing careers. Tigers 30-game winner Denny McLain was banned for half a season for gambling and bookmaking. Of course, the most well-known recent case of gambling in baseball was when Reds manager Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 for betting on his own games.
However since these times, gambling has become much more accepted in American society. In 1975, Nevada was the only state with legal operating casinos. Today, only Hawaii and Utah do not have casinos. All but seven states (including ironically, Nevada) operate a state lottery. Las Vegas, a gambling mecca, draws about 40 million tourists per year. Americans already illegally wager $80-400 billion on sports already, although that number is hard to pin down, particularly with the proliferation of online, off-shore wagering sites.
Additionally, ballplayers make so much money now, they would be much less vulnerable to throwing games for mobsters. The Black Sox stars Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver were paid $6,000 per year, still twice what the average American was making at the time, but a pittance to the multi-million dollar salaries players earn today. A scrub making the league minimum (still a cool half million dollars) might be more vulnerable, but a player like that throwing games won't last in the league for long.
Umpires might be more vulnerable as the NBA discovered in the Tim Donaghy scandal. However that scandal occurred in an environment where sports gambling is already illegal in most states. It is hard to see how the legality of sports gambling would affect the vulnerability of principals to try to affect games.
In fact, legalizing sports gambling may shed light on any kind of game-fixing that might occur. Europe has had a number of match-fixing scandals in professional soccer, but legal sports wagering sites have helped in discovering the fixes due to irregular betting patterns. If baseball were truly concerned about preventing game-fixing, it might help to have billion dollar companies with a vested interest against game-fixing to be on their side.
Of course, the true interest in it for baseball is money. Fantasy sports sites like FanDuel and Draft Kings are making money off baseball, and MLB would certainly like its cut. Already such sites advertise on MLB Advanced Media, and Draft Kings has previously had a partnership with the Red Sox and Royals. Casino advertising can be seen in baseball stadiums and the Royals and other teams hold charity raffles in the stadium during the game. It is clear MLB's opposition to gambling is not on moral grounds.