As of Monday, Nationals Park is the first MLB stadium to have an on-site sportsbook. Soon to follow will be Wrigley Field, currently developing its own site for sports gambling alongside other pro venues in Chicago.
Revenue is king, and the MLB lockout is a direct reflection. Sports gambling will attract new attention, new crowds and new kinds of enthusiasm, but the one thing it lures more than anything else — money — is where more ballparks will likely follow suit.
Baseball is business, and business follows money.
Sports gambling is restricted to fewer than half of the states in the U.S. right now, but it could be legalized in as many as 10 more within the next year. It is already approved in Colorado, as noted by ample DraftKings signage around Coors Field, so it’s time to start weighing the pros and cons of having a sportsbook in Lower Downtown.
The Pros: On-Field Attention, Lively Crowds, Increased Enthusiasm.
The Rooftop party deck at Coors Field is not exactly designed for devout baseball fans that follow every pitch. Could you imagine throwing a sportsbook up there, seeing 100 or so people bet the over on Kyle Freeland strikeouts, and seeing the Rooftop absolutely erupt when Freeland does it?
The marketing possibilities are endless — and it can all be centered around the on-field product. In other words, the Rockies wouldn’t have to lean on the Tooth Trot between innings to get people fired up.
In a baseball game, your level of involvement with the game itself is often correlated to your proximity to home plate. In that regard, anything that can connect more people to the action is a positive thing. Gambling can motivate people to learn more about the game, develop insights on certain players, and create an atmosphere where they can instantly feel involved. It’s an easy conversation starter, and it could even develop a greater sense of community if everyone gambles responsibly. Ideally, gambling can provoke more people to be more intellectual about the game.
MLB has pursued pace-of-play solutions in an attempt to market itself to new audiences. If sports gambling grows rampant among baseball fans, maybe those solutions wouldn’t be needed. Baseball has a near-exclusive spotlight in the summertime, and this could draw a lot more people to the ballpark.
One could also argue that a $10 sportsbook ticket is a lot more responsible than a $10 beer at a game. In a world where ballparks are filled with hyper-processed hot dogs, abounding soda fountains and beer taps galore, can we at least agree that maybe those aren’t great for the average fan either?
The Cons: Unhealthy Habits, Unruly Actions
A ballpark is sacred in its own right. It is not a casino, and it shouldn’t be.
Mixing baseball with gambling can cause a direct shift. A sportsbook crowd is not always a ballpark crowd, and combining them in sports venues can take away from some key reasons a lot of people enjoy live sports.
Think back to when you first fell in love with the game of baseball: it probably wasn’t because it looked like Las Vegas.
Turning the ballpark into a 21-and-over paradise might grow revenue and vocal fanbases, but it won’t exactly support the childhood dreams of kids that aspire to be on the field someday. Perhaps even worse: players are suddenly treated like gambling chips instead of actual humans. (Imagine having to inspire your child with that one.)
From 2010 onward, the Rockies are 852-990, combining for the second-worst winning percentage in the National League. There are a lot of ways somebody can gamble on baseball, but outcome-based bets are not in the Rockies’ favor over the past 12 years. One could argue that more bets would be placed against the Rockies than for, which isn’t great in creating a home-field atmosphere in Colorado.
There is already loads of alcohol inside MLB ballparks for each game, and as the casino industry has shown, alcohol and gambling can be a dangerous combination. Ballparks could suddenly incentivize alcohol purchases with gambling motives, and when drunk fans double as monetary monsters, conflict can easily ensue. Picture two tipsy fans on opposite sides of the same bet, seat them in close proximity, and hope one of them doesn’t get in the face of the other.
Bonus food for thought: Pete Rose was banned from baseball for gambling. Shoeless Joe and the Black Sox were too. Baseball gambling is now being promoted in 2022, while these all-time baseball figures are also shut out of the Hall of Fame.
The Reality: It Already Exists
It does not take an MLB team-sponsored sportsbook to allow gambling inside a game. If you live in Colorado, you can already gamble inside Coors Field — on your phone.
It’s even more convenient than a Coors Field gambling window.
Now it’s simply a matter of teams getting a piece of the pie that already exists. The revenue is already being had and the result is only projected to grow. The only thing left for teams to decide is how much of that revenue they wish to have a hand in.
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