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.
Per MLB's gambling deal, managers have been told their daily lineups must 1st go to Commissioner's Office, not to PR, not to media. "I'm really bothered by this," one manager says. It's OK to not field he best team, for service time reasons, but lineups 1st must go to Vegas.
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 6, 2019
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.