The Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates may be playing spring training games in Florida but bettors in Pennsylvania are striking out if they thought they’d be able to wager on games in any of the commonwealth’s recently opened sportsbooks.
Adhering to a request by Major League Baseball, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board pulled all spring training baseball games off the board in sportsbooks within the state on Wednesday.
MLB asked Pennsylvania to not allow betting on spring training games due to what the league considers "heightened integrity risks” brought about by the unusual nature of the games that it says are not about competition, but exhibitions where players are more concerned with preparing for the regular season than winning.
"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."
MLB issued the request to numerous states where sports betting is legal. The Nevada Gaming Control Board denied the request, stating it had several controls in place to monitor any unusual betting on spring training games that signal whether the integrity of a sporting event had been comprised. Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, Rhode Island and West Virginia are still deciding how to proceed.
MLB’s stance on bettors being able to wager on spring training games comes amid an explosion of legalized sports betting throughout the United States following the U.S. Supreme Court striking down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 last May.
That decision legalized sports betting outside of Nevada, springing operational sportsbooks in Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia, with many other states either close to passing legislation or contemplating doing so.
The first sportsbook in Pennsylvania began accepting bets Nov. 15. There are now a total of six sportsbooks across the commonwealth -- though only five listed odds on spring training games before the PGCB’s decision due to low demand.
The PGCB acquiescing to MLB’s request differentiates from how the NGCB’s longstanding policy to accept wagers on sporting events such as the NBA All-Star Game, the NFL Pro Bowl and other like contests that can be classified as “exhibitions.”
The MLB counterargument is that it is easier for gaming regulators to monitor the NBA All-Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl as each are one-day events held in a single state, unlike daily spring training games in Arizona and Florida.
MLB is still adapting to a landscape where the option to legally bet on its games is being increasingly widespread. Prior to the Supreme Court striking down PASPA, MLB vehemently argued against legalized sports betting beyond Nevada. But the league’s relationship with the gaming industry has noticeably evolved since the Supreme Court’s ruling last May.
MLB entered into an agreement with MGM International Resorts in November that made the casino an official league partner, and on Monday announced a second agreement with the company that will have MGM serve as title sponsor for a series of MLB games played in Japan that begin the 2019 season.
MGM does not own nor operate a sportsbook in Pennsylvania.