Will Major League Baseball Go Stag To California's Sports-Betting Party?

August 22, 2022
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It has been ten days since Major League Baseball announced its support of an online sports betting referendum in California, and the silence from the National Basketball Association, National Football League and National Hockey League is growing more deafening.

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It has been ten days since Major League Baseball announced its support of an online sports-betting referendum in California, and the silence from the National Basketball Association, National Football League and National Hockey League is growing more deafening.

Only the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) responded to a request by VIXIO GamblingCompliance for a statement on Proposition 26, which would legalize sports betting in tribal casinos in California, and Proposition 27, a referendum to authorize online betting in the Golden State.

“The NCAA has no comment on state legislation,” said Saquandra Heath, the NCAA’s associate director of communications, external engagement.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the reticence of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and its commissioner, Adam Silver, whose November 2014 op-ed in the New York Times heralded the metamorphosis of the leagues from staunch adversaries to eager participants in the sports-betting market.

Victor Rocha, editor of Pechanga.net which covers Indian gaming issues, said he is surprised the other sports leagues, as well as media companies, have not yet joined Major League Baseball (MLB) in supporting Proposition 27, the online betting measure.

“I absolutely expect them to jump in,” said Rocha who opposes Proposition 27 and supports Proposition 26, the tribal sports-betting alternative.

“They’ve wanted in from the beginning.”

Even if the other leagues remain on the sidelines during the sports-betting war in California, the participation of MLB is a huge development, according to Los Angeles gaming attorney Ian Imrich.

“It’s not just that Major League Baseball came out in support of Proposition 27, but they were specific in advocating measures to protect consumers like age verification and responsible gaming,” Imrich said. “I think that appeals to a broad demographic including parents as well as young voters.”

As significant as MLB’s participation may be, Imrich said, an endorsement of online wagering in California by the National Football League (NFL) is the one most coveted by Proposition 27 advocates.

But Imrich does not see the NFL following MLB’s lead in California.

“I think they have other things to worry about. [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell is much more focused on all sorts of things other than gaming,” Imrich said.

Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of gambling strategy firm B Global in Las Vegas, said MLB’s support of online sports wagering in California is important for two reasons.

“The first is to show baseball fans that mobile gaming is accepted by the league. The second is the evolution of MLB on sports betting in general; this was a group that three years ago was still demanding an integrity fee,” Bussmann said.

The challenge for MLB in California, he said, is finding a way to drive fans to the polls on November 8 to support Proposition 27.

“If they can execute on the grassroots side of this effort, then [MLB’s endorsement] may mean a lot,” Bussmann said.

One thing Rocha, Imrich and Bussmann agree on is the sports-betting issue in California is unlikely to be resolved on Election Day, November 8 and a 2024 sequel is a virtual certainty.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say 100,” Rocha said.

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