The Kansas City Royals joined the St. Louis Cardinals and Major League Baseball in supporting a proposed sports betting bill in the Missouri Legislature this week. Senate Bill 1013, which received a hearing before the Senate Progress and Development Committee on Wednesday, would legalize sports betting in Missouri pending legalization by the United States Supreme Court. The Court heard oral arguments for the case of Christie v. the National Collegiate Athletic Association back in December and are expected to issue their ruling this spring.
The proposed bill would give sports leagues a 1% “integrity fee” to ensure the integrity of the game. According to Legal Sports Report, there have been 19 bills introduced in the past two years to legalize sports betting in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, with four states enacting laws. A bill to legalize sports betting in Kansas was introduced last month. The bills commonly include a 1% integrity fee to placate the sports leagues.
Major League Baseball has done a complete turnabout in its stance on sports betting. For decades, the sport was adamantly against sports betting, due to the sordid history of gamblers interfering with the integrity of the game. Numerous players were banned in the 19th century for throwing games to appease gamblers, there was an attempt to fix the 1908 World Series, suspicions the 1914 and 1917 World Series matchups may have been fixed, and the sport’s fears culminated with the 1918 World Series when the White Sox were accused of throwing the championship series with eight players banned from baseball, including potential Hall of Famer Joe Jackson.
Baseball was so touchy about any appearance of impropriety with gaming, it even suspended people for associations. Hall of Fame manager Leo Durocher was suspended a full season for meeting with gamblers. Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were briefly banned from baseball for serving as greeters at a casino after they had retired from baseball. Tigers 30-game winner Denny McLain was banned for half a season for gambling. And the “hit king”, Pete Rose, agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 for betting on his own team, the Cincinnati Reds.
But sports betting has become ubiquitous. An estimated $400 billion annually is wagered on sports betting, despite the fact it is illegal in most states. The internet has allowed access to wagers gamblers could previously find only in Nevada. Major League Baseball has jumped into the fray in recent years, becoming an investor in the daily fantasy sports company DraftKings.
The NBA has come out in support of legalized sports gambling, although they are still a plaintiff in the suit against former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who signed a New Jersey sports betting bill into law. MLB is also listed as a plaintiff along with the NHL, NFL, and NCAA. Despite this, MLB has been working with state legislatures on their legalization bills, pushing for the 1% integrity fee. The professional sports leagues pushed for federal legislation back in 1992, causing the current nationwide ban on sports betting, except for in Nevada, which was given a grandfather clause.
A few years ago, I wrote about why the concerns about legalized sports gambling should be diminishing in baseball. In Europe, sports betting is more legal, which has caused some match-fixing in soccer, but the sportsbooks have actually been helpful in finding irregularities. Legalization seems to bring the industry out of the shadows, to be highly regulated by the states.
New Jersey officials seem very confident they will prevail and the nationwide ban on sports betting will be lifted by the Supreme Court. Sports leagues may see wagers on its games as an inevitability, and the move now is to get their cut. Sports leagues have opposed gambling in the past, and perhaps they are moderating their position as they see the writing on the wall. But they may have no choice soon.
Update: A previous version of this article indicated the Royals expressed reservations about the sports betting bill. The Royals expressed concerns about Senate Bill 1009, a similar sports betting bill, but are in support of Senate Bill 1013. In their statement, they write:
It’s an issue baseball has studied for a very long time, and our belief is Senate Bill 1013, sponsored by Senator Hoskins, contains the necessary, powerful combination of extremely strong integrity protections and mandated requirements for casinos to work closely with our league to monitor betting for potential manipulation. The protections and required cooperation in the bill would ensure the crucial confidence and trust fans have in the integrity of our sporting events.
The bill appropriately includes requirements for: real-time recordkeeping; age verification; the use of official, indisputable league data; the ability for sports leagues to opt-out of problematic forms of betting; combating false or deceptive advertising; mandated cooperation with Major League Baseball investigations; real-time data sharing; barring athletes, coaches and officials from betting on their own games; and casinos to share costs associated with integrity monitoring and offset the risk assumed by the sports leagues, who make possible the profits reaped by the casinos.
Senate Bill 1009, unfortunately, does not meet the standard required for protecting our fans and our sport. As noted, the right for a casino to profit on sports betting must come with serious responsibility and robust, air-tight requirements, as the stakes are simply too high. SB 1009 falls short of meeting stringent criteria the state deserves.
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