Minor League Key Exec Sees Major Problem with Expanded Sports Betting

Posted on: March 12, 2019, 04:50h. 

Last updated on: March 12, 2019, 04:54h.

As more professional sports leagues look to partner with gaming entities, at least one entity is expressing concern about what expanded legal sports betting might do to its game.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. takes a swing during a Buffalo Bisons Triple-A baseball game last season. Minor League Baseball’s top executive said in a recent interview that he’s concerned about expanded sports betting and the impact it could have on games. (Image: MILB.com)

In an interview with the Boston Herald, Pat O’Conner, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, said he’s bracing for the day when his league will have to deal with a sports betting issue.

“Now, it may be local and small enough that it never rises to the level of a ‘scandal,’ but think about this,” O’Conner said.

You’re in A-ball, and you got a nice bonus but you’re making $2,000 a month, and a guy comes to you and says, ‘Hey kid, just the first pitch — throw the first pitch outside, that’s all you need to do. You’re going to throw a hundred more pitches before the night’s out, just make sure the first one’s outside.’”

O’Conner’s concerns go beyond the thousands of athletes who play on feeder teams at various levels for the 30 Major League Baseball franchises. It includes the hundreds of umpires who officiate the games and the official scorers who make decisions that could affect the outcome of wagers placed on a game or an at-bat.

Though Unlikely, Fixes Could Be Possible

A survey of sportsbooks showed few offer betting on minor league games. According to World Casino Index, the top option is Costa Rican outlet 5Dimes, which offers lines for the Pacific Coast League.

Fan Duel does not offer betting on minor league baseball games at any of its sportsbooks, said Kevin Hennessy, the company’s director of publicity.

Jeff Lantz — Minor League Baseball’s senior director for communications — told Casino.org the organization was not aware of any US books that take action on its games.

However, there is a precedent for lower level games to be compromised.

Ten years ago, European investigators determined that about 200 soccer games across the continent — including many second-division games — were part of an organized crime plot to fix games. Law enforcement determined that gangs reached out to players, coaches, and officials as part of the endeavor.

A separate investigation found a betting scandal influenced the outcome of matches in Italy’s second- and third-division leagues.

Lantz told Casino.org that Minor League Baseball’s penalties for any player or official caught betting on a game that involves them or who is caught trying to fix a game faces a lifetime ban, the same penalty as Major League Baseball.

Minor Leagues Become Proactive

O’Conner told the Herald that Minor League Baseball already plans to hire more personnel to oversee the games and ensure their integrity, adding that the organization was not enthusiastic about the steps sportsbooks and lawmakers have taken to address those issues.

“This is going to cost us a lot of money, because we are going to have put governance and oversight in place,” he said. “We can’t wait until there’s a problem before we start looking for issues. We’re going to have to add staff, and that’s fine — if that’s where this country is going and that’s what they want to do, we’ll react to the environment that we’re forced to play in.”