Manfred was speaking at the Yahoo All Markets Summit. The topic of sports betting came up, a hot topic after the most popular game to wager on, the Super Bowl.
Manfred seemed to be getting more liberal regarding how his league views sports betting:
“There is this buzz out there in terms of people feeling that there may be an opportunity here for additional legalized sports betting. From the perspective of our sport, we are reexamining our stance on gambling. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the owners.
“And here’s the issue, and I think [NBA] Commissioner [Adam] Silver has probably framed it the best. Betting can be a form of fan engagement, it can fuel the popularity of a sport. We all understand that. Point one.
“Point two: Sports betting happens. Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So I think the question for sports is really, are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition. Or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling?
“And that’s a debatable point. It is a debatable point, and it’s one we’re discussing internally.”
More on his full statements from Yahoo here.
“What I’ve said about legalized gambling is that the landscape is changing and that baseball, during this offseason, principally will take a look at its relationships with legalized gambling — whether it’s sponsorship, whatever — and re-evaluate given that the country has changed in terms of its approach to legalized gambling.”
However, this appears to be the first time Manfred alluded to actual federal regulation of sports betting in a public forum. That echoes the language being used by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA, who have supported a “federal framework” for sports betting. (Like the NBA, MLB remains a plaintiff in the ongoing NJ sports betting case, which would create an unregulated environment at the state level.)
Whether such a federal scheme would ever actually be put into place is certainly in question. A far more likely path is changing or repealing federal law — PASPA — that prohibits single-game wagering outside of Nevada.
The fact that Manfred is acknowledging the massive black market for gambling is a good thing for proponents of legal sports betting in the US. Americans wagered billions were wagered at illegally operating bookmakers on the Super Bowl.
Any steps toward a legal and regulated sports betting market in the US from the leagues are likely to be small ones. So Manfred — or any other commissioner — not dismissing the issue out of hand is a positive development.