Heading to the bottom of the ninth, the Nats are up 6-1 over the Marlins, Max Scherzer has just thrown 110 pitches and Davey Martinez calls in a struggling reliever for mop-up duty. This move is greeted by a chorus of boos from Nats fans not happy enough with the win. They bet the “under” and thousands of dollars are riding on the next three outs. This scene could very well play out next summer as legalized sports betting is coming to Nats Park.
Legalized Sports Betting in DC
The deal for sports betting in DC is all but done. Last May, the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and now the DC Council is reviewing the Sports Wagering Lottery Amendment Act of 2018 Bill 22-944 to allow casinos to offer betting on sports under licence from the DC Lottery. Noah Frank has a great article on the Sports Capitol site, What legal sports betting in DC might look like, where he writes that the interested parties are working to fast track the bill in order to get the betting windows opened at local sports venues including Nationals Park by next summer.
Even if the bill passes, it will still be a while before you can legally place a sports wager in D.C. But there is an urgency among the bill’s sponsors to move it through quickly, leaving just a couple of weeks for changes and clarification on a number of points unaddressed by the first draft.
Councilmember Jack Evans, a Democrat who represents Ward 2, who introduced the bill, said Wednesday that he foresees five major venues — Nationals Park, Audi Field, the Entertainment and Sports Arena, Capital One Arena and the Convention Center — as the initial brick-and-mortar establishments, with hotels, bars, restaurants and other local operators able to potentially join them.
It would be safe to assume that Jack Evans has already spoken with Mark Lerner and possibly confirmed that the Nationals are interested in adding a betting room at the ballpark, but even if this is not the case there will be legal mobile phone betting available in the city so the genie is exiting the bottle. The Nats are in a position where bets will be placed in their venue, they might as well get a piece of that action.
MLB Cautiously Eyeing Big Profit Potential
Based on the Black Sox and Pete Rose scandals, dark stains regarding gambling is part of the history of baseball. There are questions about why MLB would now allow its franchises to operate casinos (or contract them out to established gaming companies like MGM). The best answer is supplied by Mark Cuban who declared that US pro sports franchises doubled in value the day that the Supreme Court legalized betting. MLB does have concerns about fixes but the current salaries of players greatly reduces the temptation to make a few bucks through a cheat. MLB is also asking for a quarter of a percent of the gross in states legalizing betting, clearly indicating their position on the subject. In addition MLB expects to profit by selling real-time stats data to the sports books and projects increased TV ratings as viewer’s rooting interests turn in to financial interests.
One interesting twist on legalized sports books is the effect on the relationship between MLB and companies like Draft Kings and Fan Duel. MLB was an early investor in Draft Kings and was counting on the fantasy sports site to drive interest in fans watching the games. This partnership worked because Draft Kings was claiming to not be a gambling site for legal purposes. Once legal sports betting became more likely, the model flipped with MLB (and the NBA) divesting itself from Draft Kings, being replaced by new partners with direct connections to the gaming industry. It will be curious to see how Draft Kings and Fan Duel interact with MLB moving forward as they transition to straight betting sites. The casino betting operations have long wanted to create partnerships with MLB, but prior to legal betting baseball had treated the industry as a nuisance. The NHL (Nationals Hockey League) made their move this week with a deal with MGM Casinos per CNBC.
“Having a direct relationship with an MGM gives us the ability to have more control over the types of bets that are being placed and how the data is being used, which is vitally important to us and we assume the players,” he said on “Squawk Alley.”
The position taken by the owners isn’t necessarily popular with everyone. Players worry about increasingly angry heckling by drunks at the ballpark and on-line harassment via social media. Joe West expressed concern about dangerous situations when betters take a bad loss they can’t afford:
“It scares me to death,” veteran umpire Joe West, president of the umpire’s union, told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m not worried about any of my guys doing anything (illegal), but I am worried about their security. People won’t have just a rooting interest in games, but now they’re gambling on them. So, if they lose their money, and they’re mad enough, anything’s liable to happen. You really worry about the criminal aspect, guys getting hurt, getting their legs broken, anything really.”
A Sportsbook at Nationals Park?
The big question for many Nats fans is how will this affect the in-game experience at Nationals Park? For years the ballpark has been the most family friendly of local sports venues, with the kids play zone, mascot races, and dozens of choices of sweet treats available. Will the addition of a decent sized contingent of gamblers have a negative impact on the game day experience? It will certainly be different when a group of fans are rooting for an over/under score line as much as for the home team to win the game.
Speculating on where the Nats would place a set of betting windows, I’d imagine that the location of the old team store next to the B garage would be a spot where both ticket holders and non-ticket holders could place their bets. Depending on space available they could put in a bar and line the walls with TVs for out-of-town games. The patio area behind the Diamond Club and the conference rooms on the club level would be other likely locations.
Winners, Parlays, Prop Bets, and Teasers
In states where sports betting was legalized this summer, the casinos reported being surprised by the volume of betting on baseball. The amount of data and advanced statistical analysis available has made the sport an obvious choice for gamblers taking the time to look for an edge. From an article on Delaware Online:
In baseball betting, pitching is basically everything. It’s the only major sport that has a major variable on a game-to-game basis. The starting pitcher is different every game, no matter how many times a manager trots out the same position players. And his nightly effort will, more times than not, determine an outcome of a game.
It’s because of that, despite all its confusing odds and overwhelming amount of games, that many think betting on baseball is the best way to make money.
So now its summer 2019, the Marlins are in town and I’m looking to add some excitement to the night, what options will be available to add a little juice to the night? The Sports Geek blog has a very helpful article on the subject: Baseball Prop Bets – Can They Be Profitable? The usual straight winner and over/under bets with money lines, along with parlay options will definitely be the standards. Beyond that there will likely be run lines (teasers), bets on who is winning after five, margin of victory, and who scores first. Most of these gimmick bets are considered to be money losers by the hardcore gambling crowd.
Stat fanatics and fantasy players might be more attracted to the bets on individual player performances. Whether a particular player gets a hit, a HR, a stolen base, or any other type of achievement. There are also bets on head-to-head player performance.
In theory, there are a near infinite number of prop bet opportunities during a ballgame, however in practice this is limited based on the actual demand for these bets. There are only so many people looking to place a bet during the fourth inning of that Marlins v. Nats game and why give them 20 options when two or three will bring in the same amount of action. What I would expect is a variety of prop bets offered for both the full game and for each inning, allowing just enough available wagers to satisfy the guys sitting in the ballpark on a Tuesday night with money to burn. From ESPN:
Still, established betting practice suggests the appetite for off-the-wall bets will be minimal. While fans at Super Bowl parties might wager on the amount of time it will take Pink to sing the national anthem or which color hoodie Bill Belichick will wear on the sideline, Nevada sportsbooks don’t even offer that type of “prop bet” because someone either controls or already knows the result. Similarly, bookmakers are likely to place strict limits on the amount of money that can be wagered during a particular pitcher-batter match-up.
Final note, I’m looking forward to betting at the ballpark, even though I’m not much of a gambler. I like that it is legal and easily available when I choose to place a wager. I have no issue with individuals gambling and companies making money off of gambling, but I think that government’s role should be limited to regulation and taxing and not actively promoting what many consider to be a vice. So I was not thrilled with the testimony from the DC Lottery Board representative about how they plan to use gambling to expand their business model by targeting a young customer base.