Potential Gambling Corruption Concerns Minor League Baseball

Baseball pitcher in the act of throwing
The President of Minor League Baseball is concerned that players in the minors may be approached to fix games due to the legalization of sports betting.

30-second summary

  • MLB fought against legalizing sports betting for many years but ultimately failed
  • Now MLB wants to get in on the action in a variety of ways
  • Minor League President has concerns that minor league players will be targets for corruption

MLB and sports betting

Major League Baseball (MLB), along with the other major sports leagues, fought against the legalization of sports betting for many years. Along with the NFL, NHL, NCAA, and NBA, they pursued legal action to prevent New Jersey from and ending the federal ban on sports betting through a lawsuit.

This ultimately proved to be fruitless when the US Supreme Court in May 2018 struck down the ban. Since then, many states have made sports betting legal and many more states are currently considering bills to do the same in the near future.

After the announcement of the Supreme Court decision, the major sports leagues knew that their race was run and sports betting would become a reality. They largely made the decision to embrace this shift and get their own slice of the action.

MLB, the NBA, and the PGA Tour at first pushed hard for an integrity fee, which would be a cut of every sports bet for the league responsible for the event.

The idea was that this money would go toward monitoring betting activity to ensure the integrity of the sport. No state has yet established integrity fees when legalizing sports betting.

Lucrative business

Some of the leagues have focused on licensing live league data to sports betting operators. Live betting is extremely popular and these operators would need access to official league data in order to stay up-to-date instantly with the changing action.

A study commissioned by the American Gaming Association estimated that MLB could make as much as $1.1bn (£840m) annually from sports betting through selling data, sponsorships, advertising revenue, and the increased popularity of the sport.

MLB now has an official gaming partner, MGM Resorts, which is also a partner of the NBA and NHL. MGM will act as the official gaming partner of these leagues and help them with their integrity monitoring. The company will get exclusive access to valuable data in return.

The first MLB team to obtain a gambling sponsor is the reigning World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox. The team has partnered with MGM Resorts International. The MGM logo will be placed around Fenway Park, shortly before online sports betting becomes legal in Massachusetts. Previously, the Red Sox had a partnership with the Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Minor League Baseball’s concerns

The Minor League Baseball president, Pat O’Conner, fears that unforeseen problems could be caused by MLB embracing sports betting.

He has concerns that embracing gambling on baseball games could have a significant effect on minor league players. He is afraid that minor league players that they are a lot likelier to be subject to corruption because of their lower pay.

Speaking to the Boston Herald, he said: Without safeguards, I would say it’s a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ at some level. Now, it may be local and small enough that it never rises to the level of a ‘scandal’ but think about this: You’re in A-ball, and you got a nice bonus but you’re making $2,000 a month, and a guy comes to you and says, ‘Hey kid, just the first pitch — throw the first pitch outside, that’s all you need to do. You’re going to throw a hundred more pitches before the night’s out, just make sure the first one’s outside.’

“OK, you may not affect the outcome of the game but now you’re owned, you’re owned. And the next time he comes back, it may be something more. It may be more money, it may be a more egregious offense but you’re owned. A young and impressionable kid is not going to know he needs to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his career. Or his life. When you are in a position where ‘This may be my last year and I’ve never really had a good payday, and somebody offers me something?’ I’m not saying they would, and I would like to pray to God that they won’t, but it is a real threat.”

Previous incidents

There have of course been past instances of corruption scandals in baseball, most infamously the Black Sox scandal in 1919. Eight of the players on the Chicago White Sox allegedly agreed to throw the World Series in return for payment.

The players were said to be unhappy with their salaries. With about 7,500 minor leaguers getting small remuneration for their services, there likely will be some disgruntled targets who may be vulnerable to such a proposition.