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Rule 21

 

It hangs in every clubhouse from the low minors to the major leagues — a giant poster with the headline:

TO PLAYERS AND MANAGERS
THIS IS PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL RULE 21, REGARDING GAMBLING, etc.

Boiled down to its essence is the first sentence, “Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.”

It is the rule that was instituted with the Black Sox scandal in 1920 and the one so infamously violated by Pete Rose.

Since the Supreme Court struck down the Federal prohibition against sports betting last May, both state legislatures and the leagues themselves have been exploring the best way to use sports betting as a way to raise revenues but not cast aspersions on the integrity of the games themselves.

Three of the leagues, the NBA, the NHL, and MLB have inked deals with MGM Resorts to become “official” gaming partners. In exchange for this status, the leagues will get cash and MGM will get access to deeper analytical stats that the leagues currently only provide to their member clubs.

The bigger questions remain:

  1. Will there be betting parlors in stadiums and arenas?
  2. What kind of bets will be accepted?
  3. Will the leagues be forced to expand who is prohibited from placing bets to include family members and agents?

As states legalize sports books, or possibly choose to operate them on their own via their existing lottery commissions, expect that gaming will be authorized in some manner inside the venues. It could take the form of full-blown parlors or kiosks in the concourses. Betting through smartphone apps is another possibility. But to prevent violating federal wire transaction laws, stadiums could force bettors to be connected to their wi-fi networks to access betting sites.

What will be permitted? Straight win or loss bets? Will there be over/unders? Point spreads? And perhaps more importantly will there be “prop” bets?

“Prop” is short for “proposition.” It’s not necessarily tied to winning and losing but the proposition that something will happen in the course of a game. Will Player X strike out? Who will hit the first 3-Pt FG in a basketball game? Will Player Y rush for 100+ yards today? And if you can place “prop” bets must they always be of a positive nature?

The stories of professional athletes that have frittered away their big-money contracts are legion. A 2009 study by Sports Illustrated claimed that 78% of NFL players are either bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of retirement and 60% of NBA players reach that five years after leaving their game. While these figures have been disputed, players in all sports are vulnerable to bad decisions draining away their salaries. Sometimes it’s a bad investment (Jack Clark, Curt Shilling), sometimes it’s a bad marriage (Michael Jordan) or sometimes it’s sexual stupidity (Shawn Kemp, aka “The Father of Our Country”) and those things can all happen while the athlete is still playing. And that makes them vulnerable to using proxies to place now-legal bets on their activities as a way to alleviate those financial pressures.

Major League Baseball has hired the UK firm Genius Sports to keep a real-time eye on betting trends. They flag unusual upticks of activity around a team or player and report that back to MLB investigators. But could smaller bets spread among proxy bettors be enough to fool the system?

While the professional leagues steer their ships into the choppy waters of legal gambling, what will become of the NCAA? While the pros can hope big, on-going salaries to athletes will contribute to keeping their sports clean, what of the amateur athlete? Not only do they watch their universities cash in on television contracts and merchandise sales, will they now be able watch them cash in on their individual efforts?

The states, the teams, the leagues and the players all have one thing in common: Many of them are facing their own mountain of debt. Gambling is increasingly becoming the siren song, a way to escape or delay financial disaster. One wrong decision and the disaster will be accelerated instead of delayed. Then all the posters in all the locker rooms won’t be enough to save them. And Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is dead, too.

Published in Sports
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There are 24 comments.

  1. Member

    Bottom line…I think this is a really, really bad idea, having leagues become officially involved in gambling. Nothing good can come of this. They will rue the day when their greed opened this can of worms.

    • #1
    • February 8, 2019 at 1:08 pm
    • 7 likes
  2. Member

    cdor (View Comment):

    Bottom line…I think this is a really, really bad idea, having leagues become officially involved in gambling. Nothing good can come of this. They will rue the day when their greed opened this can of worms.

    I think that is true, but for a reason I had not heard of or thought of until a few weeks ago: if an umpire or referee makes a mistake, gamblers might think it was because the official was bribed, and the league will have to prove – somehow – that he wasn’t. Standing outside that sports bar in Guarulhos, and seeing the notorious non-call of pass interference, I thought it was very very bad, but – not having any money riding on the outcome – that was all I thought. Now it appears the NFL may never be allowed to stop thinking about it!

    • #2
    • February 8, 2019 at 1:39 pm
    • 12 likes
  3. Thatcher

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    • #3
    • February 8, 2019 at 1:52 pm
    • 3 likes
  4. Lincoln

    The last real betting scandal in pro sports wasn’t with the players, but was with NBA ref Tim Donaghy a dozen years ago. And possibly because if didn’t involve a player, the shelf-life of the scandal was pretty short, compared to the coverage of past scandals where players have been involved (though if you’re a Phoenix Suns fan, the fact Donaghy may have titled their playoff series towards the San Anotnio Spurs is likely burned into your brain). There was some intense coverage of the incident, then it was not spoken of again, compared to some of the other betting scandals of the past, especially in baseball (not just the Black Sox, but the Pete Rose incident).

    It comes across as the people running the leagues and a lof of the media covering it attempting to downplay the scandal in order to avoid any negative impact on the sport. But if you legalize gambling and make the leagues partners with the big sports books, it’s hard to see how they’d untie or downplay any future scandal, whether it involves the players or the officials, and how the leagues rely on the fans to believe the games are on the level in order to maintain much of their base.

    New Orleans fans basically walked away from the Super Bowl, judging by the TV ratings, over the horrid non-call in their NFC Championship loss to the Rams. Now try to imagine a similar play like that, or a late game phantom penalty, blown coverage, interception or missed chip-shot field goal, where it later comes out a referee or player threw the game for money, and the league can’t act all aghast about gambling playing a role, because they’re in bed with Draft Kings or some other company tied to sports betting. Once fans start thinking you’re no better than pro wrestling, they’re not going to waste their emotions on you if they think the fix is in and talent and effort’s no longer deciding who wins and who loses.

    • #4
    • February 8, 2019 at 1:55 pm
    • 6 likes
  5. Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Jon1979: The last real betting scandal in pro sports wasn’t with the players, but was with NBA ref Tim Donaghy a dozen years ago.

    That’s another downside to “prop” betting. Let’s say you pick Steph Curry to hit the first 3 of an NBA game and he does – but the referee blows it off. How much money can be won or lost on a routine call in the middle of a game, a call that wouldn’t be questioned otherwise? How do they know the ref’s wife, girlfriend or sibling didn’t place a bet on somebody else?

    • #5
    • February 8, 2019 at 2:05 pm
    • 7 likes
  6. Member

    I don’t believe it would be in the best interest of sports organizations to get directly involved in sports betting. However, MLB, NFL, etc have certainly made bad decisions before.

    That said. I think one of the biggest hinderances to some sort of “MLB Official Booking” is logistic. If you renovate for a betting parlor or window you are offsetting concessions, seating, or suite level lounge. How much is revenue increased or lost per square foot of stadium space? 

    In addition to competing with existing revenue streams, betting would be at a further disadvantage competing with mobile platforms. Why go to the window with questionable allegiances when you can do it third party on your phone?

    Maybe MLB or NFL could get into the mobile market–or license to the mobile market. But that is looking to be a crowded market for some time–would an NFL brand really be a leg up in such a market?

    I kinda doubt it. 

    • #6
    • February 8, 2019 at 4:04 pm
    • Like
  7. Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    Virtuous HeathenMaybe MLB or NFL could get into the mobile market–or license to the mobile market.

    Here’s the problem: Legalized sports books are state specific. You have to place a bet in person where it is legal to do so. Mobile apps would violate Federal wire laws on interstate gambling. How do make sure that any bet placed on a mobile device is actually in the state where it’s legal? That may sound like a stupid question until you realize the outfield seats at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati are within the margin of error with the Ohio-Kentucky border (the northern most waterline of the Ohio River.)

    • #7
    • February 8, 2019 at 4:18 pm
    • 1 like
  8. Lincoln

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Jon1979: The last real betting scandal in pro sports wasn’t with the players, but was with NBA ref Tim Donaghy a dozen years ago.

    That’s another downside to “prop” betting. Let’s say you pick Steph Curry to hit the first 3 of an NBA game and he does – but the referee blows it off. How much money can be won or lost on a routine call in the middle of a game, a call that wouldn’t be questioned otherwise? How do they know the ref’s wife, girlfriend or sibling didn’t place a bet on somebody else?

    Donaghey claimed, but couldn’t substantiate, that Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings was fixed, citing a major imbalance in free throws for the Lakers in the fourth quarter of the game, which if the Kings had won would have sent them to the NBA finals, and likely with lower TV ratings than a finals involving Los Angeles would have drawn.

    Donaghey didn’t ref the game, which is why the allegation didn’t go anywhere, and those doubting him said he was just making the claim for publicity and a chance at more $$$ to tell his story, which is something other compulsive gamblers have done (hello, Lenny Dykstra!). But he also made the claim in 2008, on the very cusp of the current social media explosion. Try to imagine someone making that allegation now in the NBA, MLB, the NFL or the NHL — there’s no way the gatekeepers could have kept it from at least becoming a widely traveled Urban Legend, because there are no gatekeepers in the era of social media. And once any pro sports league loses its reputation for making sure its games are on the level, and people starting thinking either the games are fixed or worse, that the league wants certain teams to win, they’re not getting their reputation cleared anytime soon.

    • #8
    • February 8, 2019 at 4:31 pm
    • 1 like
  9. Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Virtuous Heathen: Maybe MLB or NFL could get into the mobile market–or license to the mobile market.

    Here’s the problem: Legalized sports books are state specific. You have to place a bet in person where it is legal to do so. Mobile apps would violate Federal wire laws on interstate gambling. How do make sure that any bet placed on a mobile device is actually in the state where it’s legal? That may sound like a stupid question until you realize the outfield seats at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati are within the margin of error with the Ohio-Kentucky border (the northern most waterline of the Ohio River.)

    That’s not really a problem. 

    Being in Louisiana, fantasy sports betting was illegal until this past election. When you passed the state line, the draft kings and fan duel apps disabled themselves. Couldn’t even glance at your lineup. 

    Thats the precedent. Not some theoretical margin of error on location services. Casinos (both online/brick & mortar) are lobbying for the same treatment in states where it remains a question. And they’ll get it.

    It remains to be seen whether or not the Federal Wire Act gets repealed/overturned or enforced in some way that limits the reach of individual casinos. But that mobile gambling apps exist and are considered legal–via in state subsidiaries and location services–is not a question.

    • #9
    • February 8, 2019 at 4:53 pm
    • Like
  10. Member

    EJHill: The states, the teams, the leagues and the players all have one thing in common: Many of them are facing their own mountain of debt. Gambling is increasingly becoming the siren song, a way to escape or delay financial disaster. One wrong decision and the disaster will be accelerated instead of delayed. Then all the posters in all the locker rooms won’t be enough to save them. And Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is dead, too.

    Yeah. It’s awful. Let me find my violin to play a sonata for them. Wait. It’s around here somewhere. Sorry, it’s small enough to fit in a thimble so I oft times misplace it.

    • #10
    • February 8, 2019 at 5:11 pm
    • 6 likes
  11. Member

    NJ started sports betting. If you do it online you have to be physically in the state (I guess it checks IP addresses or something). I’m not sure how much the leagues have to offer the bookmakers but if they are involved they will have a financial interest in preventing fraud.

    • #11
    • February 8, 2019 at 6:30 pm
    • 2 likes
  12. Member

    We have to destroy the league to save it.

    And, there should be a blank space on a wall in Cooperstown with a plaque reading, “Pete Rose should have been here, but he bet on baseball.”

     

    • #12
    • February 8, 2019 at 7:39 pm
    • 4 likes
  13. Thatcher

    EJHill: And Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis is dead

    Well, that’s one good thing.

    • #13
    • February 8, 2019 at 10:21 pm
    • 1 like
  14. Thatcher

    Stad (View Comment):

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    I agree-he should get in right after Joe Shlabotnik.

    • #14
    • February 8, 2019 at 10:22 pm
    • 2 likes
  15. Thatcher

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    I agree-he should get in right after Joe Shlabotnik.

    Failures that complete ought to be in the cautionary section of the HoF.

    • #15
    • February 9, 2019 at 4:28 am
    • 1 like
  16. Thatcher

    Instugator (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    I agree-he should get in right after Joe Shlabotnik.

    Failures that complete ought to be in the cautionary section of the HoF.

    The ancient Greeks erected statues of Olympic champions in the stadium where they triumphed. If a champion was found to have cheated, his statue was dragged out of the stadium and left on the side of the path to the stadium.

    So, Pete Rose gets a plaque — in the parking lot.

    • #16
    • February 9, 2019 at 4:53 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Member

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    We have to destroy the league to save it.

    And, there should be a blank space on a wall in Cooperstown with a plaque reading, “Pete Rose should have been here, but he bet on baseball.”

     

    Change it to “would have” instead of “should have” and I’ll help you start a petition drive.

     

    • #17
    • February 9, 2019 at 6:28 am
    • 2 likes
  18. Member

    Instugator (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    I agree-he should get in right after Joe Shlabotnik.

    Failures that complete ought to be in the cautionary section of the HoF.

    Hey, Uecker made it.

     

    • #18
    • February 9, 2019 at 6:29 am
    • Like
  19. Thatcher

    Percival (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    JosePluma (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Pete Rose should be in the baseball hall of fame . . .

    I agree-he should get in right after Joe Shlabotnik.

    Failures that complete ought to be in the cautionary section of the HoF.

    The ancient Greeks erected statues of Olympic champions in the stadium where they triumphed. If a champion was found to have cheated, his statue was dragged out of the stadium and left on the side of the path to the stadium.

    So, Pete Rose gets a plaque — in the parking lot.

    I vote the floor of the men’s room.

    • #19
    • February 9, 2019 at 11:26 am
    • Like
  20. Podcaster
    EJHill Post author

    JosePluma: I vote the floor of the men’s room

    Rose was the kind of player everyone hated unless he was in the uniform of your favorite team. As a player his accomplishments are unassailable.

    That said, betting on your team as a manager is unacceptable, even if he never bet on them to lose. Unfortunately, there’s little room to fete the former without being seen to condone the latter. 

    But it is hard for MLB to embrace gambling as a source of revenue without looking just a wee bit hypocritical. And notice how the league plays word games. When they want to take your money it’s “gaming.” When one of their own violates the rules it’s “gambling.”

    • #20
    • February 9, 2019 at 11:46 am
    • 7 likes
  21. Member

    I want my Pete Rose in before I die.

    • #21
    • February 9, 2019 at 6:29 pm
    • 1 like
  22. Coolidge

    jeannebodine (View Comment):
    I want my Pete Rose in before I die.

    I hope you have a long and fulfilling live, but die unsatisfied in this regard. Justice demands he remain out.

    • #22
    • February 10, 2019 at 6:51 am
    • 2 likes
  23. Member

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    We have to destroy the league to save it.

    And, there should be a blank space on a wall in Cooperstown with a plaque reading, “Pete Rose should have been here, but he bet on baseball.”

     

    Change it to “would have” instead of “should have” and I’ll help you start a petition drive.

     

    Funny. I started with would then I changed it. On reflection, you are correct.

    • #23
    • February 10, 2019 at 7:23 am
    • 1 like
  24. Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    JosePluma: I vote the floor of the men’s room

    Rose was the kind of player everyone hated unless he was in the uniform of your favorite team. As a player his accomplishments are unassailable.

    That said, betting on your team as a manager is unacceptable, even if he never bet on them to lose. Unfortunately, there’s little room to fete the former without being seen to condone the latter.

    But it is hard for MLB to embrace gambling as a source of revenue without looking just a wee bit hypocritical. And notice how the league plays word games. When they want to take your money it’s “gaming.” When one of their own violates the rules it’s “gambling.”

    “On a boat, it’s bootlegging. On Lake Shore Drive, it’s hospitality.”

     

    • #24
    • February 10, 2019 at 7:37 am
    • 1 like