Major League Baseball OK With Games In London, Where Sports Betting Is Legal

Posted on January 26, 2016 - Last Updated on January 27, 2016

Major League Baseball is looking into playing regular-season games in the United Kingdom as soon as next year, according to an ESPN story quoting Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Of course, this is aimed mainly at international expansion of interest in the sport. Both the NBA and NFL have already played regular-season games across the pond.

But the move comes with the subtext that the leagues have opposed legalized sports betting in the U.S. The American Gaming Association not-so-subtly pointed this out:

The bottom line is that the major North American sports leagues continue to present a muddy picture of their relationship with sports betting.

The MLB heads to London?

An MLB game that counts could be played in London sometime in 2017. Per ESPN:

“We are very interested in playing there, and we’re working hard on that one,” Manfred told the AP during an interview on his first anniversary as baseball commissioner. “I don’t think it will be an opener because of the weather issues. It would be later in the season.”

The games would be played in a jurisdiction where single-sport betting is allowed and regulated, and apparently the MLB (nor the NFL or NBA, for that matter) has no qualms about playing games in a city or a country where wagering is engrained in the society.

MLB’s stance on sports betting

MLB is one the plaintiffs in a court case to stop a sports betting law from going into effect in New Jersey. (That case will be reheard by a federal appeals court next month.)

Manfred, more than any other head of the four major North American leagues, appears to be a fence-sitter on sports betting. Here’s what he said last year:

“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.”

And earlier in 2015:

“Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization, and I think it’s important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be.”

MLB is also an investor in the daily fantasy sports site DraftKings, which has been declared illegal gambling by attorneys general in several jurisdictions. That’s a relationship he is still “comfortable” with, per another ESPN interview with Manfred.

Manfred, like his fellow commissioners, says that he believes that DFS is a game of skill; also like his counterparts, he insists that DFS is not subject to the same possible manipulation as straight sports betting is.

Putting games in London, though, would be one more example that MLB, like the other leagues, doesn’t view games in jurisdictions with legal sports betting as a threat to the integrity of the sport.

Where the other leagues stand

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has not minced words — he would like to see sports betting regulated and legalized in the U.S. — but at the federal level, not on a piecemeal basis. He penned an op-ed in the New York Times stating his views in 2014.

The actions of the other two commissioners — the NFL’s Roger Goodell and the NHL’s Gary Bettman — present a different picture.

Goodell remains steadfastly against sports betting, despite the fact the NFL now plays a few games in London every year. The league also signed a data deal with Sportradar, which is also involved with providing data for sports betting.

The NHL has openly opposed a bill that would regulate sports betting in Canada — which currently only offers parlay-style wagering. That stance comes despite the fact that the league is actively looking to put a franchise in Las Vegas, where sports betting is obviously legal.

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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.

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