MLB stadiums and broadcasts are flooded with sports betting advertisements and promotions, but Commissioner Rob Manfred claims that wasn’t necessarily the league’s doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred sports betting
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred speaks in Florida during a news conference in February 2024. Manfred said this week that pro baseball was sort of “dragged” into the legal sports betting environment. (Image: AP)

Appearing this week at the 2024 Associated Press Sports Editors Commissioners Meetings where top officials from MLB, the NBA, the NHL, NASCAR, the WNBA, MLS, and the NWSL discuss relevant topics affecting their sports, Manfred made a statement that left some perplexed. During a discussion about recent sports betting scandals, most notably the case involving Los Angeles Dodgers two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter stealing millions of dollars from his boss to illegally gamble on sports, Manfred declared it wasn’t baseball’s intent to embrace sports betting.

We were kind of dragged into legalized sports betting as a litigant in a case that ended up in the Supreme Court,” Manfred said. “Having said that, I recognize that when we were involved in that litigation, that one of the advantages of legalization is it’s a heck of a lot easier to monitor what’s going on than it is with an illegal operation.”

Manfred was referencing MLB’s involvement in Christie/Murphy, et al. v. NCAA, et. al, the legal challenge brought by New Jersey that reached the US Supreme Court. In May 2018, the high court ruled that a federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) violated anti-commandeering interpretations of the US Constitution.

The landmark ruling paved the way for states to determine their laws on sports gambling. Since then, nearly 40 states and Washington, DC have authorized gambling on professional and college sports.

Game Integrity

For years, the NCAA and the Big Four pro sports leagues fought to keep single-game sports betting confined to Nevada. After the 2018 decision, the leagues and the governing body of college sports embraced such wagering after it was determined to increase fan engagement and overall interest in their respective sports.

Manfred acknowledges that sports betting has helped television and streaming ratings. The league has invested heavily in integrity and compliance monitoring to assure fans that its games remain free of outside influence.

A major hurdle in that goal is player props, bets that involve a single player’s performance. Manfred says MLB has joined the NCAA in opposing player prop bets.

“When we lobby in states, there are always certain types of bets that we have lobbied against,” Manfred explained.

Manfred detailed that player props threaten MLB’s integrity, as a lower-profile player could be more easily convinced to throw a performance. For example, a player could easily strike out twice during a game to appease a bettor who risks a significant amount of money on that prop and share in the profits with the player.

Manfred says legal sports betting allows the league to more easily monitor betting activity for suspicious wagering. To date, no MLB player has been found or accused of having thrown a game.

Dragged Into All In

MLB might have been “dragged in” to the sports betting case, but the league has certainly embraced sports gambling since 2018. Most teams today have official betting sponsors, and the league itself does too.

In November 2018, just months after the SCOTUS decision, MLB inked its first gaming industry deal with MGM Resorts for it to become its “official gaming partner.” MLB later named FanDuel and DraftKings as the league’s two “official sports betting partners.”

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