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MGM Resorts named first-ever ‘Official Gaming Partner of MLB’

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Major League Baseball has, historically, been as anti-gambling as a business can be. Indeed, one can argue that modern baseball would not exist if it were not for its strong reaction to gambling in the wake of the Black Sox scandal in 1919.

The Black Sox led to the creation of the Commissioner’s Office which led to a much more unified ownership group which shaped the business and competitive landscape for years. It also led to the imposition of the harshest anti-gambling rules of any sport, with players being barred completely from gambling under penalty of a permanent ban from the game. Major League Baseball has, as you know, permanently banned its all-time hit leader as a result of it. It even temporarily banned two of its greatest ever players for a couple of years — Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays — for merely associating with casinos. As recently 2012, Bud Selig and Major League Baseball sued in the State of New Jersey to block legalized gambling from expanding outside the State of Nevada.

Things have changed rather radically in a very short period of time, however. Casino and gambling sponsorship is commonplace in ballparks. The league partnered with one of those daily fantasy sites which is, despite what they want to call it, are gambling websites. More recently, once they realized they were going to be on the wrong side of the decision in the New Jersey case, MLB and the other leagues switched sides and have worked hard to try to get a cut of legalized gambling in various states. We’ve talked A LOT about that over the past year. This partnership, then, should not be seen as a major shock, even if it might make Judge Landis roll over in his grave.

As for the specifics of the partnership, I’ll turn it over to Mr. Press Release:

As an official sponsor of Major League Baseball, MGM Resorts will domestically promote its brand and gaming options across MLB’s digital and broadcast platforms, including MLB Network, MLB.com, the MLB At Bat app and additional fan engagement offerings to be jointly developed.

MGM Resorts will be identified as an MLB-Authorized Gaming Operator and utilize MLB’s official statistics feed, on a non-exclusive basis, throughout its digital and live domestic sports gaming options.  MLB will also make enhanced statistics available to MGM on an exclusive basis. In addition, MGM Resorts and MLB will work together on comprehensive responsible gaming measures and work to protect the integrity of the game both on and off the field.

This is all pretty interesting, actually. As we’ve written about at length this year, MLB has made efforts to get the various states to give them a cut of their legalized gambling operations, basing it mostly on some nebulous intellectual property arguments. The states have mostly balked because, really, why should MLB get a cut? It has seemed mostly like opportunism by MLB. Basic rent-seeking.

This deal, however, seems more like carrot than stick. It’s signaling to anyone with some skin in the game that, sure, you can shut MLB out of your gambling operations, but anyone who lets MLB in will get some advanced analytics and other goodies out of it. Might those advanced analytics — which MLB has increasingly made proprietary and has kept from the public — help sports books set better lines that give the house an edge? I’m no gambling expert, but I can’t see how that information wouldn’t be very valuable to MGM.

In related news, the Winter Meetings start in 13 days. They’ll be taking place at Mandalay Bay resort and casino. An MGM property.

Baseball returns: Mariners beat the Athletics in the first official game of the season

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I wake up super early almost every morning. Today was no exception. Unlike most days, however, I had more to look at than my cats and more to do than wait for the sunrise: there was baseball — baseball that counted — on my TV. The Mariners took on the A’s in the Tokyo Dome at 5:30AM — which was 6:30PM, Japan time — in the first official regular season game of the year.

As far as games go it was light on the pitching and, a few dingers aside, was light on excitement, with the Mariners beating the A’s 9-7. But hey, less-than-exciting baseball is better than most things, right?

Oakland jumped out to an early lead thanks to a two-out first inning homer by Stephen Piscotty off of M’s starter Marco Gonzalez. The A’s added a second run in the second thanks to a Chad Pinder single, a throwing error which advanced him to third and a Marcus Semien RBI single.

The top of the third provided some chills: Ichiro, batting ninth for Seattle, came to bat with no one out and a runner on first, facing A’s starter Mike Fiers. Flashbulbs popped and the Tokyo Dome crowd chanted his name. He popped out to the second baseman who caught it in shallow right, sadly, but still got an ovation as he walked to the dugout. One of the more exciting and emotional F4s you’ll see.

At that point the pitching took a powder. Dee Gordon would single in Tim Beckham later that inning to make the game 2-1, the M’s would load the bases and Domingo Santana would hit one out to the opposite field for a grand slam to make it 5-2. In the bottom of the third Khris Davis came up and hit a two-run blast to make it 5-4. They say the pitchers are ahead of the hitters early in the year but, uh, nah. By the way, it was the third straight Opening Day on which Davis has homered. The record is four. Mark your calendars for next year.

Ichiro came up again in the top of the fourth, again with a runner on first, this time facing Liam Hendriks instead of Fiers. He worked a 3-1 count, fouled one off to bring the count full, fouled one off his ankle, which looked like it hurt, fouled one that bounced off his back or arm or something which also looked like it hurt, and then took one in the dirt to draw the walk. Again, a bigger cheer than you get for most walks. Later in the inning Mitch Haniger hit a sac fly to make it 6-4.

The Mariners took the field for the bottom of the fourth. Before the inning began, M’s manager Scott Servais signaled to Ichiro in right, who came running back to the dugout. He was being taken out of the game, replaced by Jay Bruce, who moved out from first base, in such a way as to allow his teammates to give him hugs and to allow the Tokyo crowd to give Ichiro a standing ovation. A nice move from Servais. An 0-for-1, 1BB night on what may very well be the future Hall of Famer’s penultimate game.

Things sort of got out of hand after that. The M’s added three runs in the fifth, two of which came on a Beckham homer. It gave us our first bat flip of the season:

At that point my kids left for school and my wife left for work and the game sort of blended into the background of the morning. Matt Chapman hit a three-run bomb for the A’s in the 7th to make it 9-7, which is a score more appropriate for the glorified spring training game this truly was than a regular season tilt, but such is life. And that, after a couple of scoreless innings, was the ballgame.

It was a game that, in the grand scheme of things, means nothing beyond the stats it created and the smallest of small impacts it will have on season standings that will almost certainly not turn on this game. Which is to say it didn’t matter all that much. It was not a big event. It did not change our day nor impact it beyond the moments of enjoyment and amusement it gave us as it unfolded. It did not insist upon itself like so many games in other sports, TV shows and news events which unfold seem so hellbent on doing.

It just happened. As baseball, when it’s at its best, simply does. Welcome back.