Before the MLB All-Star Game began in Washington, D.C., league commissioner Rob Manfred went on a barnstorming tour of sorts, speaking to various media outlets about myriad topics. Among them, sports betting and the ever-expanding legalization of the industry in states across the country.
Manfred was insightful in moments, particularly in the rise of fan engagement. Yet one word continued to pop up, the one word used so much that its definition may have now been lost: “integrity.”
Driving the bus over lawmakers, part 1
There are some similarities between the states that have passed legislation regulating sports betting. Of note is the prohibition of players, coaches, officials, etc., of leagues and teams to place wagers.
Whether Manfred was aware of that fact is up for debate, considering he said this at the National Press Club on Monday:
“Anyone who works for Major League Baseball, whether it’s legal or not, will not be allowed to bet on baseball. We’ll always have this rule.”
That rule – Section D of Major League Baseball Rule 21 – has been in place since 1927. It was there when Pete Rose was banned from the game. Likely, states offering sports betting in Charlie Hustle’s day – pre-1989 – did not have their own specified rule on league and team officials being disallowed from wagering.
Regardless, Manfred, noting it was the responsibility of the commissioner’s office and not the states to protect the MLB from controversy, continued to throw lawmakers under the bus:
“We will never delegate responsibility for those integrity issues to state regulators, whatever their expertise in the gambling area may be. We have our own expertise and no one is more motivated than the commissioner’s office of baseball to make sure that there is no threat to the integrity of our sport.”
Echoing that statement, Manfred piled on in an interview with the Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday:
“We need laws – whether they’re state laws, federal laws, whatever – that allow us to protect the integrity of our sport. That’s our job. We’re not going to delegate it to some regulator in New Jersey or whatever, with all due respect. We care more about it. It’s what we’re about.”
Basically, Manfred said, the MLB needs to “make sure that whether it’s a uniform federal scheme … or 50 state schemes,” there needs to be a universal law that “allows us to protect the integrity of the sport.”
Continuing to push to protect ‘integrity’
Earlier this year, the MLB and the NBA teamed up to form a lobbying alliance, which went on its own tour to pitch universal legislation to states that were on the doorstep of legalizing sports betting.
It did not go well, and the only state that appeared to be interested, New York, failed to pass a regulatory framework.
Rather than asking for a cut of the revenue, Manfred now appears to simply want some kind of say in regulations.
Credit to Manfred, however, as the commissioner acknowledged the upside to legalized sports betting that should lead to more dollar signs for leagues. Though he followed with what appeared to be a mid-sentence realization of nonsupport:
“Sports betting can be a great source of fan engagement. The trick for us is to take advantage of the opportunity to drive fan engagement without letting gambling be too pervasive in the sport.”