MLB says it supports bills with "clear, robust, enforceable protections" regarding sports gambling
Legal Sports Report

MLB Just Publicly Stated Its Position On A Sports Betting Legalization Bill For The First Time

MLB betting

Major League Baseball said that it is opposed to the West Virginia sports betting bill as it is advancing through the state legislature in recent weeks, per a media report in the state.

But MLB also said that it supports any sports betting bills that feature “clear, robust, enforceable protections to mitigate any possible risks to our game,” according to MetroNews in WV.

Beyond a lobbying document from both MLB and the NBA that Legal Sports Report reported on last week, it appears to be pro baseball’s first public stance on the wave of sports betting legislation that is gaining traction across the country.

A committee hearing and vote on a bill currently in the West Virginia Senate is taking place Monday afternoon.

What MLB said

West Virginia has been on the leading edge of states looking to legalize sports wagering, should New Jersey prevail in its US Supreme Court case to circumvent the federal ban, PASPA. The NBA and MLB are litigants in that case.

That has elicited an aggressive lobbying campaign from both the NBA and MLB, who recently outlined their desires for what should be in any sports betting bill, via a hearing in New York. It’s been known since the start of January that MLB and NBA were lobbying for legislation that would pay them an “integrity fee,” what amounts to a one percent tax on all money wagered in the state payable to the leagues.

MLB and NBA were responsible for getting such language added to a bill in Indiana.

More from MetroNews in WV:

The MLB released a statement regarding the bills Monday:

“Any sports betting legislation must include clear, robust, enforceable protections to mitigate any possible risks to our game. The law quickly advancing in West Virginia unfortunately falls short of meeting those critical standards. We are hopeful the legislature will complete a significant overhaul of the law and bolster protections. We would be happy to work with legislators and the Lottery Commission to improve the current language.”

The legislation does not make the state use “official league real-time data” for betting outcomes, as the leagues prefer. Nor does it allow the leagues to prevent certain types of wagers.

The current pace of activity in West Virginia, the support of the state’s gaming interests and the amount of time the state has spent on the subject already makes the MLB’s outcome of a wholesale overhaul of the bill appear unlikely.

Where MLB used to be on sports betting

Current MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke briefly on the subject of sports betting several times in 2017. But he nor the league ever directly advocated for legalization.

Manfred said this last summer:

“If there’s going to be a change in the regulatory structure with respects to sports gambling, we needed to be in a position to meaningfully engage and shape, try to shape what the new regulatory scheme looks like.”

Earlier in the year, Manfred said MLB was “reexamining our stance on gambling.”

That’s a rather big departure from former Commissioner Bud Selig, who offered this on the prospect of sports wagering in a deposition related to the first iteration of the current Supreme Court case, Christie vs. NCAA:

“…because gambling on a sport, or any sport but on this sport is what you want to talk to me about, is I think the deadliest of all things that can happen. It’s evil, it creates doubt and destroys your sport.”

Manfred is supposed to appear at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference next week.

What’s next for the leagues?

The battle appears to be all but over for MLB and NBA and their desires in West Virginia, barring an abrupt shift behind the scenes.

But their efforts will go on in the variety of states that are looking at the issue ahead of a verdict in Christie vs. NCAA. How successful the leagues will be might rest with how well they adapt their current tactics.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.