MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred Says League Wants Input on Potential Federal Sports Betting Regulation

Continuing his organization’s slow but steady pivot away from outright opposition to sports betting, Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred recently explained that he’d prefer to collaborate on any potential rollback of the current federal prohibition.

As he met with members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) to discuss wide-ranging issues impacting the league, Manfred mentioned that MLB would continue to monitor a lawsuit filed against Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey – of which MLB is a plaintiff.

That suit was filed in 2012, with MLB joining the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the National Hockey League (NHL) in objecting to New Jersey’s passage of statewide sports betting legalization.

But the MLB commissioner at that time was Bud Selig, a strict anti-gambling figure who opposed all inroads to legalized sports betting. Upon assuming the commissioner’s mantle in 2015, Manfred shifted the league’s public stance on the subject, falling closely in line with his counterpart Adam Silver of the NBA – who wrote an op-ed calling for federal sports betting regulation which was published by the New York Times in 2014.

District and appeals courts consistently ruled in favor of the leagues, but Christie and New Jersey continued the appeals process, and in June of this year the United States Supreme Court decided to hear the case.

Speaking to the BWAA, Manfred said the league “is tracking” the Supreme Court case – which has initial briefs scheduled for August 10, followed by oral arguments later in the year – but his comments seemed to suggest that MLB is preparing for the future:

“If there’s going to be a change in the regulatory structure with respects to sports gambling, we needed to be in a position to meaningfully engage and shape, try to shape what the new regulatory scheme looks like.

We’re in the process of talking to our owners and figuring out where we want to be in the event that there is in fact a significant change coming.”

The change in regulations referenced by Manfred alludes to the potential repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA) of 1992, which bars sports betting throughout the country. Under PAPSA, only four states are legally permitted to regulate sports betting (Nevada, Oregon, Delaware, and Montana), and only then due to being “grandfathered in.”

Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of Christie and New Jersey, their ruling would necessarily strike down PAPSA’s overreaching authority on a state’s right to regulate the sports betting industry.

And even if the leagues’ original lawsuit and subsequent court victories are upheld, Congress is currently considering the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement (GAME) Act – a bill introduced this May by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ). If the GAME Act is authorized, and signed into law by President Donald Trump, it would explicitly repeal PAPSA.

In a statement announcing the bill’s introduction, Rep. Pallone outlined the reasoning behind legalizing sports betting nationwide:

“Despite the federal gaming laws in place today, Americans are betting up to $400 billion a year on sporting events alone.

It’s time to recognize that the laws are outdated, and the GAME Act will modernize them by increasing transparency, integrity, and consumer protections.”

In June, Geoff Freeman – president and chief executive of the American Gaming Association (AGA) – confirmed that his organization has held a series of meetings with the player’s unions from the MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL over the last 18 months.

That same month, the AGA announced the formation of the American Sports Betting Coalition (ASBC), a lobby group consisting of law enforcement officials, civic leaders, and other stakeholders who support regulated sports betting over the status quo.