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.