Baseball Is Back . . . and So Is Gambling on Baseball . . . and Gambling Billions for MLB | National Review

Baseball Is Back . . . and So Is Gambling on Baseball . . . and Gambling Billions for MLB | National Review

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images (Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Like Xan, I’m glad that baseball is back, but I don’t have my usual enthusiasm about it. That’s because my biggest objection in recent years has not been the extra-inning ghost-runner, the seven-inning game, the increased watering down of the world’s greatest regular-season by adding undeserving teams to the post-season, the ridiculous surge in strikeouts and concomitant reduction in small-ball skill level, etc. I can live with all of that, and even with 15 pitching-changes per game and the universal DH . . . even though that means Jacob deGrom, the Mets’ great pitcher, will no longer get to show off his impressive hitting skills . . . and that bunting, already a lost art, will come closer to disappearing.

What really bothers me is gambling.

This seedy, organized-crime-ridden industry is pervasive, but it was a lot less of a nuisance when it was underground. Now, the gambling commercials and programming geared to bettors are incessant. The hooking of kids is inexorable — indeed, there is more MLB energy in that direction than in scheduling games at times when kids can watch them, and making them watchable by moving things along.

“Gaming Today” (what else?) reports on this under-covered aspect of the new collective-bargaining agreement:

Major League Baseball players have the right to negotiate promotional and endorsement deals with sports betting companies under the newly ratified collective bargaining agreement.

Previously, only the league and teams could enter into business relationships with sportsbooks and gaming companies. The new CBA allows players to enter into deals typically framed in the sports betting industry as that of “brand ambassador.” In those roles, athletes and former athletes lend their name and likeness to advertising campaigns, and also may make appearances at promotional events for the sportsbook.

The game may be too slow-paced for our atrophying attention spans, but longtime New York Yankee president Randy Levine is crowing that there will be more action than ever . . . for wagerers:

It’s quintessential fan engagement. . . . I think baseball lends itself really unlike any other sport to mobile sports betting. You can bet on what’s the next pitch: Is it a fastball? A curveball? How fast is it going to be? Is it going to be inside? Outside? Will the batter hit a single, a home run, or strike out? Will it go to right field? Left field? There are endless possibilities for somebody to be engaged.

Oh great. In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down Bush 41–era federal law that banned most commercial sports betting. The New York Times then reported that this opened the door to a staggering $150 billion in what had been a black market.

More than any other team sport, baseball knows the corrupting influence of gambling money. But with all that cash sluicing around, MLB was green with envy at the profits the now-mostly-legal industry makes off the game. They wanted the money, and by whoring the game to Draft Kings, Fan Duel, Caesar’s Sportsbook, and the rest, they are getting an ever bigger piece of the pie. Forbes reports that Americans wagered an all-time high of $57.22 billion on sports in 2022. The industry clears well over $4 billion from that action. Baseball is taking in well over $1 billion annually, and that is on the steep rise.

Baseball used to know better. In its adolescence, the professional end of the national pastime was nearly destroyed by gambling when the “Black Sox” threw the World Series in 1919. If Babe Ruth hadn’t come along at just the right time, who knows if the game would have survived and thrived as it did. MLB understood how close it had come to annihilation. To this day, Pete Rose, one of the greatest hitters in history, is banned from the Hall of Fame because the game grasped that his betting on baseball (which is suspected to have included, at times, betting against his own team) was a disaster. If people do not believe the competition is on the up and up, the golden goose is dead.

I’m afraid disaster is inevitable. The NFL is just as hooked on the gambling revenue streams as MLB. It has just suspended Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley for doing what the league encourages every young man (and woman) in America and beyond to do: betting on football games. This will be the tip of the iceberg and, for baseball, too, it’s a matter of when, not if.

I’m glad the baseball season is starting. I’m also convinced, though, that baseball’s intoxication with gambling, its increasing insinuation in the game’s marketing and clubhouses, and its wall-to-wall messaging that will get more and more kids into online gambling, cannot end well.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.