MLB Could Ease Sports Betting Regulations Against Team Owners Who Control Casinos

Posted on: February 7, 2020, 08:33h. 

Last updated on: February 7, 2020, 09:55h.

Major League Baseball (MLB) is considering changing its sports betting regulations that currently prevent team owners who also control a casino sportsbook from taking wagers on their franchise.

MLB sports betting regulations Tigers
When longtime Detroit Tigers owner Mike Fitch (center) died in 2017, he left the MLB team to his family, which controls a casino in the Motor City. (Image: Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The issue primarily deals with the Detroit Tigers and the Ilitch family, which has owned the team since 1992. The late Mike Ilitch, who made his billions by founding the Little Caesars Pizza chain with his wife, Marian, purchased the club from pizza rival Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza.

Mike Ilitch died in 2017, leaving the Tigers organization to his family’s trust, governed by his son, Christopher. However, Ilitch’s wife Marian remains chairperson of Ilitch Holdings, which complicates things because she’s fully owned Detroit’s MotorCity Casino since 2005.

Along with the Tigers, the Ilitch family owns the NHL Detroit Red Wings.

Baseball and Casinos

MLB had for decades barred team owners from controlling or operating a casino business. It’s why MotorCity was placed under Marian’s ownership, and she maintained no ownership position in the Detroit Tigers.

The league has relaxed its opposition to the gaming industry in the wake of the May 2018 Supreme Court decision that struck out the federal ban on sports betting. With the gambling activity expanding across the country, MLB, as well as the NFL, NBA, and NHL, have begun embracing the potential benefits of affording fans added reason to tune in to their games.

However, MLB still prohibits owners with casinos from taking action on their teams.

The general rule will remain that if the club has an interest in a sportsbook, it can’t take bets on that club,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said at an owners meeting this week.

But the commissioner added, “The rule does contemplate that there could be an exception, provided that there are certain safeguards built in. The safeguards would essentially ensure that there is no controlled input whatsoever from the club to the betting operator.”

Team and Casino Owners

Since the “Big Four” had all previously banned casino owners from buying professional sports teams, the Ilitch issue isn’t exactly a major problem. There are a few exceptions.

Tilman Fertitta, who owns Golden Nugget casinos in Nevada, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Atlantic City, purchased the NBA Houston Rockets in 2017 for $2.2 billion. In September, New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation to allow Fertitta’s Atlantic City casino to accept bets on NBA games, so long as they don’t involve the Rockets.

“We applaud this decision that allows all New Jersey sportsbooks to operate on a level playing field while maintaining the highest standards of players’ protection and sports integrity,” Golden Nugget exec Thomas Winter said at the time.

Dan Gilbert, owner of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, owns casinos in Ohio. But sports betting isn’t legal there.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft caused controversy in 2017 for sitting on the board of directors of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which, at the time, had acquired a controlling stake in the bankrupt Caesars Entertainment. Kraft also has stake in daily fantasy sports and sports betting operator DraftKings, but is said to be below five percent.