Washington state

Major League Baseball wants cut of the action if Washington legalizes sports gambling

If Washington state approves a massive expansion of legal sports gambling, Major League Baseball wants a slice of the money so it can “protect the integrity of the game” from potential scandals.

MLB is asking for payment of a 0.25 per cent royalty when people bet on its games. Gambling operators would pay the royalty, not the state or bettors.

Revenue would be used to hire more people and build monitoring systems to prevent scandals, said Marquest Meeks, MLB’s senior counsel for sports betting and investigations, at a presentation Thursday, Oct. 10, to the Washington State Gambling Commission.

“If someone bets $100 on a baseball game, we think we should get a quarter,” Meeks said. “The royalty is rooted in the fact that you can’t have bets on baseball without baseball.”

Meeks said baseball occupies a special place in American culture and its economy, but “sports betting puts all of this at risk.”

His PowerPoint presentation showed a newspaper headline about the scandal that erupted when eight Chicago White Sox players — dubbed the “Black Sox” — allegedly fixed the 1919 World Series. He also showed a picture of Pete Rose, who in 1989 was banned from baseball for life for gambling on the game.

“These scandals aren’t named for the bookies who took Pete Rose’s bets. They’re not named for the influence that corrupted the ‘Black Sox’ players. Instead, the association is attached to the baseball people. We are particularly sensitive to trying to make sure we can root out and avoid corruption before it gets to the point of scandal because it sticks to baseball for a long time to come,” Meeks said.

If done right, legal sports gambling offers benefits to MLB, including the potential for increased viewership and “in-play betting” — in which bets are placed on plays within a game — that would give fans, particularly younger ones, a new way to engage with the sport, Meeks said.

In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that banned sports gambling in nearly all 50 states. Since then, residents in 12 states have joined Nevada in betting legally on sports. Five states and the District of Columbia have authorized sports betting, but it’s not yet operational.

None has agreed to pay MLB a royalty fee.

The sole sports gambling bill that a Washington state House committee approved this year — but which did not advance farther — would have allowed sports gambling only at tribal casinos.

Gambling Commission member Chris Stearns said federal law prohibits state governments from imposing fees or taxes on Indian gambling.

Meeks said MLB understands that the Legislature has the final say over how a major expansion of sports gambling would be structured and said the league would negotiate with the tribes to try to convince them of the need for payment of a royalty.

MLB also wants a requirement that if Washington allows “in-play betting,” sports books would have to use MLB game data and the league would be paid for supplying it.

The benefit would protect consumers because “official league data is the only verified and accurate data from the field of play,” Meeks said.

“Pirated data,” often collected by individuals at games in violation of MLB’s ticket policy, puts bettors at risk if they wager with illegal gambling operations or legal entities that don’t use MLB’s data, he said.

Meeks used an example of someone who bets during a game that a player will get a certain number of hits. If MLB’s data shows the player’s last at-bat is an error but “pirated” data says it was a hit, one person loses that bet and the other wins.

MLB wants the right to request — and get a response — from regulators to prevent certain wagers, Meeks said.

“There are certain types of bets that for each sports league we’re going to have a greater risk of corruption. The example we use a lot is whether the first pitch of the game is going to be a ball or a strike. That’s a discrete event that a single person can control and manipulate, and we think it’s better to prohibit bets on those types of events,” he said.

MLB also is asking the state to prohibit betting on minor league baseball games, which involve players who are paid much less than those in MLB. Meeks declined to elaborate about the rationale after the meeting. In a lobbying document used in other states, MLB and the National Basketball Association have said minor league games are “more susceptible to corruption and fixing than others.”

Fred Rivera, general counsel and executive vice president of the Seattle Mariners, made brief remarks to the gambling commission.

“We fully support what the (MLB) commissioner is trying to advance on this topic,” said Rivera, referring to Rob Manfred.

James Drew covers the state Legislature and state government for McClatchy’s Washington papers: The News Tribune, The Olympian, The Bellingham Herald and The Tri-City Herald.
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