Kenny Gersh of Major League Baseball faced an interesting question during last week’s Sports Betting Symposium at G2E, namely if the league wants to have a revenue share agreement with sports books, should it not go through the same vetting process that gaming industry operators have to endure?
Gersh didn’t seem to agree. Despite extolling the virtues of a partnership between the leagues, the state, the sportsbooks and casinos, he believes that vetting would be unnecessary. “We’re putting on the games – the events on the field of play,” he told delegates. “We want to figure out a way where we can do rev share agreements without having the commissioner or each one of the owners go through what is a pretty vigorous process for sports betting.
Does he stand accused of wanting to have one’s cake and eat it? You might think so. Earlier in the panel session he said on the one hand that the MLB was willing to be a part of it (sports betting) and that the league wanted to shine a light on the regulated sports betting market. “If we all go into it together we will raise the handle,” he articulated.
But when pressed on the possibility of league vetting his response went: “We don’t think it’s appropriate to go through the vetting process. Gaming is being forced on us and we’re dealing with it. I don’t think it makes sense.”
It might be argued in defense of Gersh that in the midst of a lively debate, the left hand may have gotten out of synch with what the right hand was doing. Is the MLB having gaming forced upon it, or is it actively seeking to raise and gain revenue from gaming? Given that he presented both views publicly we can only assume he’s either unsure or the league does indeed want to have its cake and eat it. In other words it seeks a share of sports betting revenue, without the grief of going through the vetting mill.
Cake analogies aside, this is a key question that the leagues must take seriously. They argue that without their games there would be no betting on major sports. By implication that would suggest they already are a major component in the sports betting process and wish to play an even more important role by demanding revenue share whether that be through exclusive use of official data or the introduction of an integrity fee/royalty, or a combination of the two.
To be fair to Gersh, his suggestion that gaming is being forced on the leagues does have legs. After all they did their utmost to ensure that PASPA be upheld, even though its efficacy as a barrier to sports betting proved to be as effective as a chocolate teapot. Illegal sports wagering has flourished for decades and the legal version is now etched into the landscape whether they like it or not.
The question still stands though – are they in or out? How closely do they become allied to the commercial gaming model before they become an active part of it?
Gersh was clear on one thing at least. If you don’t trust the integrity of baseball “don’t take bets on baseball – period!” To that, we’d venture that if you’re in any way involved with receiving income directly or even indirectly from sporting wagers you risk being positioned in the same ballpark as the guys taking those wagers. And that, perhaps, is a logical starting point from which to at least consider operating under the same rules and strictures that govern the gambling industry.
The alternative, of course, might be for the leagues to take what’s perceived to be the moral high ground and refuse to have any truck with sports betting – walk away and leave the gambling industry to its own devices. More sensibly, they might consider a scenario where the rising tide of sports betting lifts all the boats through commercial partnerships built on trust and value rather than integrity fees or royalties writ large on the statute books.