Will Major League Baseball’s New Lineups Rule Affect Sports Bettors?

by Taylor Smith
on March 9, 2019
8

Minute Read

The rapid expansion of sports betting in the United States has already had all sorts of ramifications for professional sports leagues. Each of the 4 “major” leagues, Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NFL, and the NHL, have already agreed to deals to align themselves with gambling entities. Major League Baseball recently came to a sponsorship deal with MGM Resorts International that will make MGM the “official gaming partner of MLB,” for example.

Since the Supreme Court voted to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) last May, several states have moved to legalize and regulate sports betting. For years, Nevada was the only state in the union that was excepted from PASPA. Now, New Jersey and several other states have made it legal to wager on sports. Many more are likely to follow in the months and years to come. Some have already put bills on the table to be taken under consideration.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling last year, the heads of the biggest pro sports leagues in America were vocal in their opposition to legalized sports betting. The most common argument against legalization was that making sports betting legal could compromise the integrity of the leagues themselves.

Major League Baseball has had a number of run-ins with illegal gambling in the past. The most notable of which is the Pete Rose fiasco. Rose, who is still baseball’s all-time leader in hits with 4,256, was banned from the game after the league determined that he had broken the rules by betting on the game while playing for and managing the Cincinnati Reds. Rose denied having done so for years before finally copping to his illicit actions in 2004. As a result, Rose is banned from being voted into the Hall of Fame.

The Rose scandal remains relevant to this day, so it’s easy to see why MLB may have been so wary of advocating for the legalization of sports betting. However, now that the Supreme Court has had its say on the matter, the league has done a 180 and determined that it may as well embrace the burgeoning industry. The league’s aforementioned pact with MGM is just the latest sign that the league is ready to delve into the world of sports betting.

New Lineup Procedure

Major League Baseball’s deal with MGM means that MGM will be granted access to MLB’s official data feed. On Wednesday, it was reported that all 30 big league clubs will be required to submit their daily starting lineups to the MLB league office 15 minutes before they are made public. In the past, managers would simply post lineup cards to the wall of the locker room before the game,  and media would be allowed to report it to the masses.

The league believes that this new protocol will streamline the way information is disseminated in a way that reduces the likelihood of inside information being leaked.

Obviously, lineups and umpire information are important to oddsmakers and bettors alike. Which players populate the lineup certainly has a major effect on how betting lines are set and how bettors will approach getting action on certain games. Teams will still be allowed to post lineup cards in the locker room or announce them via official social media accounts, but only after the league office has already received the information.

In a statement, Major League Baseball said.

We are updating a number of our procedures to reduce integrity risks associated with the expansion of sports betting in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling last May. One new procedure is that we now ask Clubs to submit starting lineups in a uniform fashion in order to reduce the risk of confidential information being ‘tipped.’ This approach mirrors those of international sports leagues in more developed betting markets.

Major League Baseball can say this new procedure has the integrity of the game in mind, but clearly the league is trying to cater to its new business partner. It represents too stark a shift in the daily protocol for the sportsbooks to not have a say in the matter.

Potential Hang-Ups

Longtime baseball reporter Peter Gammons was one of the writers that broke news of the league’s new rule on Wednesday. In a tweet, Gammons quoted one anonymous manager that said he is “really bothered by this.”

Managers are already wary of letting information get out into the public. There is plenty of strategy involved in putting a lineup together, and it’s fair to wonder whether how oddsmakers react to certain lineups will cause some manager to second guess their own decisions. If a manager submits a lineup and sees that Vegas has suddenly made his team a massive betting underdog, could that influence that manager’s decision-making in the future?

As a part of the new rule, could managers have to disclose information to the public that they would otherwise prefer to keep close to the vest for strategic purposes? One would imagine the manager quoted above had something like that in mind when news of the rule came down. While that could hurt managers in terms of plotting strategy for an upcoming game, it can only be advantageous for oddsmakers and bettors alike to have that kind of information out for public consumption.

It’s also worth noting that lineups often change in the time between when they are initially posted and when the game actually begins. Some players may be forced to be removed from the lineup after an injury pops up, for example. How does the league plan to handle a late scratch situation? Presumably, the team would have to send the updated lineup to the MLB league office before announcing the change to the public, which could cause some hiccups with regard to the betting public as well as those that play daily fantasy sports.

Bettors and DFS players know that the timing of the release of lineups is hugely impactful. Obviously, whether Mike Trout is in the Los Angeles Angels’ lineup affects quite a bit. Whether a bench player cracks the starting 9 is less impactful, but it still matters.

Does the new lineup procedure give an advantage to sportsbooks over bettors? Oddsmakers will get to see the lineups first, which gives them the chance to set lineups accordingly. In the past, there was a chance for bettors to place bets before Vegas could adjust the lines according to lineup info. While MGM will get the official data feed as a part of its contract with Major League Baseball, ESPN’s David Purdum added that other sportsbooks may have the chance to purchase the same feed from MLB if they so choose.

On the flip side, could the new protocol actually help bettors and DFS players? In the past, getting lineup information was often unpredictable. Some managers released lineups earlier than others, which made betting somewhat complicated. It’s tough to get a read on a game when one manager is releasing his lineup an hour before his opponent.

Now that MLB has clear rules on the matter, it should be easier for the general public to access lineup information. Knowing when lineups are coming should generally make the process simpler for the betting public.

All About the Money

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Major League Baseball’s decision to suddenly embrace sports betting has everything to do with money, and little else. MLB can cite integrity of the game concerns all they want, but everything about this decision comes with an eye on the bottom line. The league wants a piece of this budding new revenue stream, so they are doing what’s best for their financial interests. That means keeping their new business partners happy.

As mentioned, several states have already legalized sports betting, while others are set to follow suit. Below are the states that have already done so, as well as those that could do the same in short order:

State Has Legal Sports Betting?
Nevada Yes
New Jersey Yes
Mississippi Yes
Rhode Island Yes
West Virginia Yes
Delaware Yes
Pennsylvania Yes
New Mexico Yes
Louisiana On the way
Connecticut On the way
Maryland On the way
Massachusetts On the way
California On the way
Missouri On the way
Oklahoma On the way
New York On the way
South Carolina On the way
Illinois On the way

Whether the new lineup rules affects the gambling public and DFS players remains to be seen. At first glance, the rule does give an added edge to oddsmakers, as they can adjust lines based on lineups before the public has access to the information.

MLB has not enforced the rule with spring training thus far. While there is far less money bet on spring training than there is on regular season and playoff games, books still take action on preseason affairs. MLB recently requested that sportsbooks in both Nevada and New Jersey cease to offer spring training bets due to integrity concerns.

The league’s argument was that most teams are not actively trying to win spring training games, as they are instead using the time to evaluate talent and get players ready for the upcoming season. The league also argued that minor league players, who make far less money than their big league counterparts, could be swayed into disclosing potentially compromising information if approached by someone offering additional money for inside info.

However, both New Jersey and Nevada declined MLB’s request to stop offering spring training bets.

The new rule may be an adjustment to bettors when accessing necessary lineup information. That could prove frustrating to many, but MLB is always going to do what’s best for their financial windfall. The new opportunities offered by legalized sports betting mean that more tweaks to the system are likely to come in the years ahead as the industry continues to expand across the United States.

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