It's Opening Day for Major League Baseball on Thursday (April 7) as federal prosecutors continue an investigation into a gambling scandal involving a former minor league pitcher in California.
On March 31, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California announced that Wayne Nix, 45, of the southern California community of Newport Coast agreed to plead guilty to operating an illegal gambling ring which included a website in Costa Rica.
Nix, who pitched for minor league teams in the Oakland Athletics farm system, failed to report $1.4m in income in 2017 and 2018, according to the Justice Department.
Three former Major League Baseball players and a former pro football player, none of whom were named by the Justice Department, allegedly agreed to be bookmakers for Nix.
A sportscaster, whose identity also was not revealed, reactivated his account by promising Nix he would pay his gambling debts by refinancing his home mortgage, the Justice Department said.
Major League Baseball began looking into the matter after being notified of the Justice Department’s statement, according to Sports Illustrated.
A call and email on Tuesday (April 5) to Major League Baseball from VIXIO GamblingCompliance did not draw an immediate response.
Although by no means as serious as the Black Sox scandal of 1919, in which the Chicago White Sox took money from gamblers to throw the World Series that year, the allegations against Nix and his cohorts are not a good look for Major League Baseball as the new season begins.
The Nix gambling scandal also comes at a most inopportune time for advocates of ballot initiatives which would legalize sports betting this year in California.
A poll released on February 23 by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley revealed less than enthusiastic support for a constitutional amendment to legalize sports betting in the Golden State.
The poll of registered voters showed 45 percent are inclined to support sports betting, while 33 percent are opposed and 22 percent are undecided.
About four in ten of both Democrats and Republicans said they were inclined to support sports betting.
“It is rare these days for a political issue to not be seen as partisan. But legalizing sports betting in California appears to be one of them, at least for the time being,” Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies said in a news release about the poll.
The poll also showed supporters of sports betting are more likely to be men than women and younger and middle-aged than older.
Voters with a post-graduate education and those who are politically conservative are less likely to support sport betting, according to the poll.
The only sports-betting initiative that has qualified so far to be on the November 8 election ballot in California would legalize retail sports wagering at Indian casinos and four racetracks.
“The already-qualified, in-person tribal sports wagering measure is the most responsible and incremental approach to authorizing sports betting in California,” said Kathy Fairbanks, spokeswoman for the Coalition for Safe Responsible Gaming, which represents Pechanga and other tribes supporting the sports-betting measure.
“All bets must be placed in person at a tribal casino with safeguards in place to prevent underage and illegal gambling. By establishing sports betting in person in well regulated casinos or racetrack settings, our measure will help satisfy people’s desire to bet on sports, but do it in a legal, safe, and responsible way,” Fairbanks said.
Another ballot initiative that is expected to make the November ballot is sponsored by DraftKings, FanDuel and a coalition of commercial gaming companies that would legalise online sports betting in California.
“There’s an old axiom about ballot measures that voters tend to vote against measures if they are confused,” said Dan Walters, a veteran California political reporter who covers gambling for CalMatters.
“Given the general similarities, sowing confusion will be relatively easy. So it’s possible that it will be a murder-suicide scenario.”
Matthew Reilly, a political consultant in Sacramento, California, who formerly represented cardrooms opposing the sports-betting measures, said he is confident none of the initiatives will pass.
“With hundreds of millions — and tens of millions already — being spent against it, I’d say odds of voters legalizing sports wagering are about the same as Wayne Nix pitching in the big leagues. Nil,” Reilly said.