Today, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a longstanding federal ban on sports gambling (Nevada was exempted) on constitutional grounds, opening the door for individual states to decide whether they want to legalize the practice. Many states will, and it’s probably going to happen relatively quickly.
To that end, the implications for Major League Baseball will probably also come into focus relatively quickly … unless, of course, more fighting between the league and the players adds a layer of murk.
The sides issued statements immediately in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, and – without putting too fine a point on it – I think they want to make sure that if there’s a sudden new flow of money attached to their games, they understandably want a cut:
MLB issues statement on today's sports gambling ruling: "Our most important priority is protecting the integrity of our games." pic.twitter.com/FKo1PFjJLG
— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) May 14, 2018
Statement of MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark on U.S. Supreme Court’s sports betting decision… pic.twitter.com/0pLmWvb9KU
— #MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) May 14, 2018
Without a doubt, the integrity of the game is an important issue, but I’m not so much worried about “fixing” games become a realistic threat these days. There’s so much money in the game, itself, and so much risk that I don’t think there will be enough upside for players/managers to go down that road, to say nothing of baseball being a tough sport to consistently throw the final result.
Instead, I can imagine some of the intellectual property rights – of the teams, and of the players, themselves – could become an issue as new, fancy versions of baseball-related gambling pop up. How the particulars of that would play out, I could only speculate, but I think it’s fair to say at this early juncture that it’s a legitimate consideration.
In the end, as I said, I think we’re going to find that the league and its players want a cut (or maybe even want to be directly involved somehow). I don’t think that’s unfair, and I also don’t think there aren’t ways to do it without harming the game.
That said, I hope all sides very carefully consider the long-term implications for the sport, especially given the very tenuous labor relationship that already exists, and the rapidly changing TV rights landscape. There’s a lot of risk in jumping too quickly and too aggressively at the cash side of this ruling. I am not naive – we’re going to see companies SPRINTING to dominate this space with each league as quickly as possible – but I do hope that the league and players, themselves, can take a beat to get it right.