MLB’s Lineup Decision Kicks off New Era in Baseball Betting

Late last year, Major League Baseball entered into a contract with MGM Resorts International to become the league’s official gaming and entertainment partner. Now we have the first significant change to the game as a result of that partnership.

In a move Major League Baseball hopes will “reduce integrity risks” involved with gambling on baseball, the organization has announced that teams must send their starting player lineups to officials at least 15 minutes before they’re publicly announced, according to the Associated Press. Doing so, the organization claims, will “reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped’.”

At least, that’s the reason the league provided. But others have suggested that MLB is actually doing something a bit different with those lineups. Per Chad Finn (emphasis mine):

MLB, which in November reached a gambling partnership with MGM Resorts International, one of the world’s largest gaming operators, and also has a deal with daily fantasy site DraftKings, will confirm receipt of the lineups, then distribute the information to its partners. Releasing the lineups first to the commissioner’s office would allow MGM to set its betting lines before others have access.

In other words, according to some, in addition to the “integrity risks” cited as its public reasoning, MLB also appears to be collecting lineups so that its gaming partners can set betting lines on baseball games. As you might imagine, the new rule hasn’t been all that popular with managers and players.

Alex Cora, manager of the champion Boston Red Sox, addressed the gambling issue this week:

“This whole thing is serious. You guys know [catcher] Hector Villaneuva. He used to tell me stories from Taiwan, how the whole gambling thing was there. The pitcher was [stuck] in it, he was in it, then the umpire was in it. Nobody knew what to do. Throw pitches down the middle; he was taking pitches, and the umpire was calling them balls. For us to send the lineup, and if something happens, we have to re-send the lineup and then keep doing it — hopefully I don’t forget.”

Peter Gammons addressed the issue from another direction.

Marc Topkin raised a different concern in a conversation with Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash: what happens with a late lineup scratch as the result of an injury or illness?

But what about a day when a player isn’t sure if he’s healthy enough to go until taking batting practice? Or when someone feels sick just before game time?

There will be questions about how that info is to be handled, or whether the lineup should be released until they know for sure. And on many other things.

In betting, information is king. And if MLB is going to be in the business, there are a lot of things that may have to change.

“It is weird,” Cash said. “And it’s probably more eye opening. You don’t think about that. But the way (MLB officials) kind of laid it out, they have legitimate reasons to be consuming themselves with this new protocol. …

“It’s all a different era. Everything is.’’

So let’s take a look at what this means. First, I’ve received a few questions about whether or not this new policy allows for “insider trading” using unreleased information. The answer is no; insider trading refers to transactions related to securities, which is a different situation entirely.

But that doesn’t mean that this system can’t be abused, which is why Major League Baseball brought in an outside firm to maintain game integrity in this brave new world of sports betting. Earlier this year, MLB announced a partnership with SportRadar, which will serve as the distributor of statistics to media partners (like MGM), and work to make sure that games aren’t being fixed. The company is well-known for this line of work; they have a $250 million contract to perform the same role for the NBA after Michael Jordan and Mark Cuban became investors.

In the U.S., Sportradar will have the same exclusive rights for official real time statistics distribution to media entities in their coverage of Major League Baseball. Sportradar will also serve as the official supplier of MLB’s real time betting data feed in the U.S. where distribution to regulated sports betting operators will be on a non-exclusive basis through Sportradar and additional authorized distributors.

* * *

Alongside the commercial partnership, MLB will incorporate Sportradar’s Integrity Services into its existing game integrity protection measures. Sportradar will be monitoring and analyzing every MLB game via its award-winning fraud detection system and providing the MLB with educational components, as well as access to its intelligence and investigations services.

Despite their profile, SportRadar has a decidedly mixed record when it comes to this sort of work. Last year, James Watson, who was in charge of maintaining game integrity at SportRadar, was terminated after an investigation found he was “aggressively” betting on the information he received before it was made public. But that’s not all. The Guardian has reported multiple times that a 2013 $70 million contract between SportRadar and the International Tennis Federation led to a “serious integrity problem,” including match fixing from both players and umpires. A 2018 independent report recommended that the ITF discontinue its relationship with the company, a recommendation that SportRadar dismissed and the ITF rejected.

Further, despite repeated requests from Pat O’Conner, president of Minor League Baseball, the SportRadar contract does not include monitoring of minor league games to prevent game fixing or betting.

Despite being more concerned about fraudulent activity at the minor-league level, MLB does not have an agreement in place with Sportradar to monitor its minor-league games. Deploying Sportradar or the services of a similar company for the minor leagues has been discussed, said an MLB official, but no plans have been finalized.

It’s not all bad. An independent report contracted by SportRadar after the wave of scandals found that the company’s basic integrity screening systems were sound in both its methodology and the accuracy of the results. SportRadar has even partnered with the University of New Hampshire’s law school to offer a degree in sports betting integrity. Still, it will be interesting to see how effectively the company has resolved these issues.

MLB’s move to standardize the public dissemination of lineups shows that gambling is here to stay in baseball, and it’s potentially concerning that a company with SportRadar’s track record will be the one acting as the sport’s enforcer. That concern might be unfounded; as we’ve noted, SportRadar maintains high profile contracts with other leagues. Whatever part the motivation to allow MGM to set betting lines played, MLB’s concerns over ensuring the integrity of the game appear sincere. But it will be interesting to see whether what the next chapter in baseball betting looks like. After all, it hasn’t always gone so smoothly.

Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.

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4 years ago

So interesting. Love these kinds of articles. Would be interested to see if some betting “scandals” pop up in the minor leagues as a result of less oversight..

Cliff B
4 years ago
Reply to  jankees1991

Minor league players would stand to gain more from bribes since they’re not paid a living wage to begin with.

4 years ago
Reply to  Cliff B

…a living wage…

every time I read or hear shit like this, I want to puke. joe blow is a worker, that’s it. he makes what the market says. you want to make more? go to school, save your dollars, invest in a company or yourself, then you can make something more

4 years ago
Reply to  tuna411

You sound like fun.

4 years ago
Reply to  tuna411

First issue.) You’re operating under the assumptions that 1.) the US economy operates as a free market – it doesn’t and 2.) that everyone has the means and ability to go to school, save, or invest – they don’t.

To be frank, the lack of a living wage for US workers is hurting all of our pocket books. A prominent example is increased healthcare costs as low income individuals have disproportionately greater healthcare costs (less time and money to invest in their health) that are passed on to the rest of us through insurance premiums.

The idea of a living wage isn’t something that should be scoffed at or viewed negatively. The line of thinking that a living wage is going to take money out of Joe Blow’s pocket is inherently false unless his social circle includes CEOs and team owners. If implemented correctly a living wage should be a net benefit to both the middle and lower classes. It would actually allow more people to go to school, save, invest, and eventually make more.

Second issue.) As your comment relates to baseball, you’re applying free market concepts to a monopoly.

Minor league players work in a monopolistic industry. The thing is, almost all workers in the US have better protections against unfair market practices than minor league players because MLB is exempt from anti-trust legislation.

In a free market certain minor league players would certainly be paid far more than they are. In a free market Jose Tatis Jr. is probably paid more on a yearly salary than a middling MLB vet. Jose could go work elsewhere, but his most valuable skills relate to baseball. However, artificial market constructs, not “the market,” prevent him from cashing in on those skills while risking the loss of those skills each time he suits up for the team.

OddBall Herrera
4 years ago
Reply to  averagejoe15

“the US economy operates as a free market – it doesn’t”

This is a hugely general statement, and its validity really depends on exactly what you mean by it, so I’m curious.

4 years ago

So I’ll start with that I understand some refer to the US as a free market because it relatively better resembles a free market as opposed to a planned one. But a free market is defined “as an economic system in which prices are determined by unrestricted competition between privately owned businesses.”

The thing is, every market in the US is restricted to an extent and impacted by some combination of regulation, the minimum wage, tariffs, etc. Taken another way, many people refer to the US as a capitalist economy. In a spectrum of capitalist to socialist we are much nearer the former but it’s still a mixed economy, not pure capitalism due to government influence.

I wouldn’t have an issue referring to the economy by these terms if people didn’t use them to oversimplify market issues and posit their uninformed opinions. Miscasting the US as a true free market is what creates this idea that people are paid according to what the market dictates, when the reality is that it is much more complicated than that.

4 years ago
Reply to  tuna411

Minor league wages are as far away from a free market (that would dictate wages) as possible.

There’s a REASON teams have fought to suppress minor league wages. They know the market would greatly increase their salaries. Incorrect use of economics.

4 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

That’s exactly what I’m saying if I’m the one you’re responding to.

4 years ago
Reply to  jankees1991

You can’t get more than $100 down on a AAA game, so no.