MLB Players’ Association Concerned League Too Cozy with Sports Betting

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association believes MLB might be getting too close with the legal sports betting industry.

MLB Players’ Association Executive Director Tony Clark says states must write player protections into their sports betting laws to ensure the expanded gambling doesn’t threaten the big leaguers or their families. Major League Baseball has embraced legal sports betting in recent years. (Image: Getty)

Tony Clark has served the MLB Players’ Association as its executive director since late 2013. Clark has steered the players’ interests through several critical developments, most recently in March when the union initiated a strike that lasted 99 days until a new collective bargaining agreement was struck.

Speaking this week at the MLB All-Star Game in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, Clark expressed concerns regarding the league’s ongoing enthusiasm for legal sports betting across the country. Asked whether he is getting concerned that MLB might be overly embracive of the expanded gambling sector, Clark didn’t hold back.

Getting [concerned]? No. Is? Yeah. Has been? Sure,” Clark answered during a press conference with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

“We’re entering a very delicate, and dare I say, dangerous, world here. We hope that it is truly beneficial for our game moving forward and that everyone who is involved benefits from it in one fashion or another. But when you have players suggest that no sooner was PASPA repealed, that they started to have book houses following them on social media, that gets you a little twitchy pretty quick,” Clark added.

PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, limited single-game sports betting everywhere other than Nevada. The federal law ran from its passage in 1992 until its May 2018 repeal by the US Supreme Court.

Incessant Agreements

MLB, along with the NFL, NBA, NHL, and NCAA, had for many years opposed efforts to legalize sports betting outside Nevada. The leagues and collegiate sports body argued that widespread legal sports gambling would jeopardize the integrity of their games, as players, coaches, and other insiders could become vulnerable to outside influences.

Proponents of repealing PASPA and giving states the right to decide their own laws on sports betting countered by saying that sports betting has been going on for as long as the games have been played, albeit through unregulated — and therefore technically illegal — channels such as underground bookies and offshore websites.

But after the Supreme Court struck out PASPA, and more than 30 states have since passed laws authorizing legal sports gambling, the MLB, as well as the other organizations, have sought to partner with the sportsbook interests and gaming industry. Data shows that legal sports betting increases fan engagement, which leads to better in-person stadium attendance and higher television ratings, and subsequently, more overall revenue for the league and its franchisees.

Player, Family Protections

Clark wants to make sure that the league’s financial windfall from sports betting doesn’t threaten players or their families.

We’ll continue to pound the pavement in each of the state legislatures that are continuing to push, that have language in place, and those that don’t yet that are potentially coming online to ensure that as much as anything, our players are protected, and their families by extension, are protected as a result of the language that’s on the books despite the fact that this train has left the station,” Clark said.

Clark’s MLB Players’ Association, however, has also boarded the sports betting train. Just earlier this month, the association’s business arm — MLB Players, Inc. — struck a deal with MGM Resorts. The pact allows MGM’s sports betting unit — BetMGM — to use MLB Players branding in its marketing materials.

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