The implications of an MGM gambling deal

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With the league getting in bed with more nefarious forces, a Pandora’s box is opened.

In the halcyon, Wild West days of the likes of Fanduel or DraftKings, I can’t picture someone who didn’t groan after seeing their gnawing testimonial-like commercials. Originally the vestige of Nevada sports gambling sites and bookies, sports gambling was all of the sudden a pop-up, startup like industry worth an estimated $3 billion… each!

Since then, the league stepped back just a tad, awaiting a series of court cases that would decide whether sports gambling would finally, actually be legal or not. That changed in a landmark Supreme Court ruling just this past May, in which Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own.”

This is a great expansion of anti-trust power taken out of the federal government’s hands, as they have essentially ceded the question of the ethicality of sports gambling to the likes of Rob Manfred, for example.

Manfred was quick to act upon this decision, as he inked a deal with MGM, the first sports booking company to make deals with three major sports leagues. The terms of the deal dictate the following:

“The partnership designates MGM as the first official gaming and entertainment partner of MLB. MGM sportsbooks will begin to utilize baseball’s official statistics feed and have access to enhanced stats on an exclusive basis. In addition, MLB intellectual property, like league and team logos, will appear in MGM advertising and at the company’s sportsbooks. MGM also will have a presence at the All-Star Game and World Series… One area of data that will be exclusive to MGM is the advanced statistics, including exit velocity of a home run, speed around the bases and route efficiency to a ball hit into the field of play. Those pieces of data will now be co-branded with MGM.”

This is the piece that should give pause to any analytics-inclined fan, our staff representing just a few. If casinos have access to Statcast’s black box, then what else do they have access to? Obviously the details of such a deal won’t remain public, so it’s safe to say that the House capital-H will have access to privatized data that teams and players cannot see.

The other aspect to reasonably oppose such a development is the actual harm inflicted by the enablement of sports gambling, and it’s expected to become a bigger crisis as this kind of betting becomes legal in state after state:

“Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said gambling addiction last year resulted in social costs of almost $7 billion, most stemming from health care and criminal justice… $115 billion was generated in legal gambling and states allocated $71 million for addiction prevention and treatment — less than a 10th of a percent of the total revenue… you have to look at gambling addiction as a national public health issue.”

Just like with any public health crisis, it’s the result of deliberate choices governments and private institutions make that enable them. The opioid crisis is tied to the over-prescription and abundance of opiate pills; the cigarette epidemic caused by the negligence of tobacco companies; the obesity crisis caused by food subsidies, and lack of access to affordable, healthy food. It shouldn’t be a surprise that gambling addiction will be a bigger issue when sports leagues actively make that more accessible.

I’m sure there are unintended consequences that we won’t know about until later. The late 19th century and early 20th century was rife with a culture of corruption surrounding gambling and fixed and/or influenced games, and we don’t know the implications that could be found today. There are implications about the league and team’s data, public health, and preserving the integrity of the game, and the league is diving in head first, so we’ll see soon enough how deep the pool is.

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