It’s something of a no-brainer for professional sports leagues to get involved in the burgeoning world of legalized sports gambling. But gambling always comes with strings attached, and sometimes those strings are going to dangle in a way that doesn’t seem quite right.
That might be the case with the news that Peter Gammons reported on Wednesday, noting that as part of Major League Baseball’s deal with MGM Resorts International to be their “official gaming partner,” team lineups will now go directly to the commissioner’s office before they go to the media or public-facing outlets.
In other words, Vegas gets a first look at the lineup each team is trotting out each day in order to inform their betting lines. Handing over that kind of impact is going to have a lot of managers feeling very wary about the way they deploy their strategies.
Per MLB's gambling deal, managers have been told their daily lineups must 1st go to Commissioner's Office, not to PR, not to media. "I'm really bothered by this," one manager says. It's OK to not field he best team, for service time reasons, but lineups 1st must go to Vegas.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 6, 2019
Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle filled in the details. All MLB lineups must be submitted to the league for review no later than 15 minutes before the press and public see them.
MLB released a statement to say that they were making the move for integrity reasons.
“We are updating a number of our procedures to reduce integrity risks associated with the expansion of sports betting in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last May,” per the statement. “One new procedure is that we now ask clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’”
So while MLB might use words like “integrity,” it’s really about protecting the money. Certainly, they wouldn’t be making a hardline rule like this if they weren’t deferring to the casino. It raises too many eyebrows for it to just about integrity.
As for how it might affect the game day-to-day, it’s unclear. But it certainly could have an effect. The most obvious way it could cause concern is that it might influence the way a manager puts their lineup together. While arbitrary, teams might not like seeing their lineups constantly being picked as underdogs and might feel the need to influence that. Or a manager might decide at the very last second that they want to make a change but now they’re worried about angering the money people, who will certainly get in the ear of MLB. Of course, it’s less likely that the actual managers will worry about it but more likely that executives and owners could be more vocal about it.
But there’s also concern about what else might be on the horizon like this. Will teams have to lock down starting pitchers at a certain time or day? How soon will they have to disclose injury updates? Will they have to make other decisions public that they’d rather not because of strategic reasons?
Of course, there are plenty of other concerns that MLB needs to be worried about when it comes to gambling influence. They’re stepping up scrutiny when it comes to hiring official scorers and there is always going to be fear that umpires could be influenced to make certain calls.
Ultimately, the new lineup decision may be more of a nuisance than anything, but it’s a surefire signal that when push comes to shove, the league (and probably all pro leagues) will defer to their newfound gambling revenue streams and how to protect them.