It was one of the darkest points in sports history. Several members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox had colluded with gamblers to throw the World Series. It not only left a dark stain on the sport but led to several policies and regulations from Major League Baseball that bar players from gambling, especially on baseball. This would eventually lead to the permanent suspension of one of its greatest players.
It was because of this incident that MLB has long sought to distance themselves from gambling, but this is a new day and age. Now, with sports gambling legal in the country, Baseball appears ready to cast off its concerns and embrace this as a huge potential for new revenue.
Last November, MLB partnered on a new deal with the MGM Resorts. This appeared to be a huge change of heart. For 100 years MLB had argued in the courts that legalizing gambling across the country could put the sports world in jeopardy. That this opened the door for a potential reoccurrence of the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
Yet, here were executives with Baseball making a deal with a casino to open the door for betting on the sport. The irony did not go unnoticed.
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Senior writer at ESPN, Steve Wulf, was quick to criticize the league. He pointed out in his article about how the league had taken a “Puritanical” approach to sports betting to ensure that the “integrity” of the game would be maintained. That it was necessary to permanently suspend one of the greatest five hitters in the history of the game because of his involvement in sports betting.
Now, that seems to all be in the past. The integrity of the league no longer seems to be in question. Why? There’s really only one answer – money.
The league got $80 million to partner with MGM. That means that the integrity of the league is worth that much. The league has tried to put a very professional and responsible face on this decision, issuing a statement that read in part:
“We are updating a number of our procedures to reduce integrity risks associated with the expansion of sports betting in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last May. One new procedure is that we now ask Clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’ This approach mirrors those of international sports leagues in more developed betting markets.”
That the league recognizes the potential conflicts of interest here is at least perceptive on their part. Having information about an injury or a player’s state of mind is gold to gamblers. That’s the kind of information that will help them to make an informed decision that can be the difference between winning and losing, and it is good to see that the league is trying to set policies in place that will bar insiders from releasing this information.
The question will be how that game information can be controlled. The truth of the matter is that the integrity of the game is in question. If MGM will pay $80 million to partner with MLB, just imagine how much they assume they will make.
It is likely that injuries and other similar types of data can be kept secret or at least protected. However, what about different kinds of insider information. What if a player has been spending too many nights recently out partying or there are rumors around the locker room of domestic violence or that player is going through a divorce? How is that kind of information going to be secured?
Those kinds of situations can have a dramatic effect on games and are the kinds of things that gamblers would love to know. You can be sure that players may feel compelled to reveal information like that to friends and family members who are involved in betting on baseball. Nothing illegal about it. They’re just trying to help out a friend.
The reality of the situation is this. This is a dance that Major League Baseball had to participate in. There is simply too much money involved, and this is what sports is all about these days.
It is likely going to mean that there are going to be some incidents early on. With that kind of money involved, players and management are going to take risks. They’re going to get caught and are likely going to be punished, maybe even severely.
It has to be that way. There has to be a strict discipline imposed to deter others from crossing the line. The most important thing to understand is that gambling is not going away. This is a permanent fixture in the game now, and so the hope is that the money involved will not ruin the sport. It’s 100 years later and people are still talking about the 1919 White Sox. Let’s hope that the event will continue to be ancient history.