Major League Baseball requested that the Nevada Gaming Control Board prohibit betting on spring training games, a request the NGCB has denied.
The NGCB said it shares MLB’s concerns regarding the integrity of spring training games. However, the NGCB said sportsbooks throughout Nevada have controls in place to monitor action on a particular sporting game or event, and to date have not seen issues related to unscrupulous wagering on spring training games.
NGCB chairwoman Sandra Morgan also said in a statement that Nevada’s sportsbooks serve as the “alarm bell” when the integrity of a sporting contest might have been compromised.
"Based on our history and experience in regulating sports wagering, we are not inclined to prohibit our licensed sports books from taking wagers on MLB Spring Training games,” the NGCB said in denying MLB’s request. “We have a common goal to combat sports bribery and maintain the integrity of your sport, and are available to discuss ways we can work together in this effort."
MLB made the request to the NGCB Feb. 22, a day before the first scheduled spring training game. The league argued in its request that exhibition games brought "heightened integrity risks” in part because players are not expected to give maximum effort, thus “more vulnerable to manipulation.” That risk is exacerbated by the expansion of legalized sports betting outside of Nevada, MLB contended.
"Spring Training games are exhibition contests in which the primary focus of Clubs and players is to prepare for the coming season rather than to win games or perform at maximum effort on every single play. These games are not conducive to betting and carry heightened integrity risks, and states should not permit bookmakers to offer bets on them," MLB said in a statement.
"Limited and historically in-person betting on Spring Training in one state did not pose nearly the same integrity risks that widespread betting on Spring Training in multiple states will pose."
Nevada sportsbooks frequently take bets on games that could be deemed “exhibitions,” including the NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl. MLB argues that exhibition games held in multiple states are difficult to regulate. Spring games primarily take place in Arizona or Florida, with a few held elsewhere.
This is the first time spring training games have been listed in Nevada sportsbooks since May, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting outside of Nevada. Since then, legalized sports betting has proliferated throughout the country; seven states (Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) now have operational sportsbooks. Many other states are either close to passing legislation or contemplating doing so.
MLB asked Pennsylvania and Mississippi to prohibit wagering on spring training games, according to ESPN. In Pennsylvania -- home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies -- the Gaming Control Board agreed to MLB's request and pulled spring training games from its sportsbooks on Wednesday. Mississippi was reviewing the request.
Similar to other prominent American-based professional sports leagues, MLB had long opposed legalized sports betting. But following the Supreme Court’s decision last spring, the league has changed its viewpoint and embraced entering into partnerships with casinos.
In November, MLB named MGM Resorts International the “Official Gaming Sponsor of MLB” and “Official Entertainment Partner of MLB.” And on Monday, MLB announced MGM Resorts would serve as the title sponsor of its Opening Series in Japan later this month that includes the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners playing two regular seasons against each other. The Athletics will also have patches on their uniforms promoting MGM for the duration of the series.
“There’s been a huge change in public opinion” on sports gambling, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in November in announcing MGM as an official partner, per the Associated Press. “It has presented an opportunity for all sports and baseball in particular.
“We have to take advantage of every opportunity to drive engagement by fans.”