On April 20, 2022 Charlie Blackmon became the first active player in any major league sport to partner with a sportsbook when he partnered with Colorado-based MaximBet.
“It was a pretty unique opportunity to be the first active player to partner with an online sports betting company,” Blackmon said of the groundbreaking deal, “and with them being specific to Colorado, I felt like it was a good fit.”
10 years ago, this was unthinkable. Sports betting was illegal in nearly all states. But now, it’s everywhere.
You can’t listen to the radio, watch your favorite TV show or attend your favorite sporting event without seeing some sort of reference to it. Teams are sponsored by multiple books and many stadiums are even installing them directly inside for fans to live-bet during the game.
So. How did we get here?
A brief history of sports betting
The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) law, enacted in 1992, prohibited all state-sanctioned or state-run sports gambling operations in 45 states, and pro leagues kept the gambling industry at arm’s length. For example, in 2015, then-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo planned to host a fantasy football convention at the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, but the NFL canceled the event due to its association with the famed casino.
But despite hesitations about the gambling scene, the NHL added the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, and the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars became the Las Vegas Aces in 2018.
The Supreme Court struck down the PASPA in May 2018. The NFL’s Oakland Raiders moved to Las Vegas in 2020, and there are rumors that MLB and the NBA have interest in the market.
According to a January 2022 Washington Post article, more than $87 billion has been wagered on sports since the PASPA was overturned. Since then, nearly all major league sports stadiums have partnered with some sort of sportsbook and it won’t be long before more players follow Blackmon’s lead to personally partner with one or multiple.
There are still concerns surrounding the risks of sports gambling, but the monetization and increase in fan engagement are too good to pass up.
“It’s extremely regulated,” assured Blackmon. “I’m promoting the MaximBet brand, I’m not actively telling people to go place bets.
“And me personally, we have a very strict rule that we cover every year that there’s absolutely no betting or gifts to be made on the game of baseball, to umpires,” he continued, “and you can’t receive anything either. So it’s very strict and we were very careful to make sure with my agents, with the Players Association and with Major League Baseball that we were completely aware of what the regulations were before we went ahead with the partnership.”
However, while sports betting might be helping with fan engagement at sporting events, it also has some unintended consequences, especially on social media.
Living with sports gambling
Numerous Rockies players had stories of interactions they’ve had since gambling was legalized.
“Yeah, I’d say [the tone has] changed,” said Kyle Freeland. “The amount of people that are now betting, I feel like whenever we don’t accomplish what they want us to accomplish, it’s… not nice stuff on social media. They’re firing off on us over probably like a $10 bet.”
“I don’t think most people reach out to you when you win the bet for them,” added Austin Gomber, “they only reach out when you lose the bet for them. So I would assume that most of the negative stuff I get is probably tied into gambling in some sort of fashion.”
Daniel Bard began his career in 2005, before the rise of social media, and has gotten some interesting requests when people lose money.
“Every once in a while when I blow a game, I’ll get a DM that says ‘you just lost me 300 bucks’ or something,” Bard said. “I’ve heard of people getting Venmo requests. You can search anyone on Venmo and people get Venmo requests like ‘pay back my 50 bucks.’ Obviously no one pays it — it’s really weird — but I would say that’s the minority of fan interactions.”
On the positive side, though, Bard acknowledged that legalized gambling is “probably bringing some people into the sport fan-wise that maybe wouldn’t otherwise care about baseball, so that’s always a good thing.”
Scott Oberg is the Rockies MLBPA representative, and he said the union is taking note of fan interactions and actively working to ensure player safety. He was especially concerned about the live in-game betting and the safety concerns that it could pose for players and their families.
“You don’t know what people are capable of, especially if money’s on the line,” he cautioned.
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Sports betting is here, likely to stay. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that keeps gaining momentum and teams, players and especially fans must navigate it together.