With sports betting looming in Maryland, Major League Baseball said Wednesday that it wants to team with the state to guard against the rigging of “particularly risky” bets — such as whether a game’s first pitch will be a ball or a strike.
Marquest Meeks, an MLB senior counsel, said at a public hearing that the league hopes its partnership with Maryland gambling regulators will include not only sharing official statistical information about games with licensed sports betting operators, but also consulting about wagers it believes pose a higher than usual risk of being fixed.
Meeks used the example of a gambler wagering on the first pitch of a game or inning, or the first delivery to a batter.
“Bets on the first pitch are a particularly risky bet type, and we would like the opportunity to be able to come to the agency and discuss that,” Meeks told the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Agency at a hearing to solicit comments about proposed new sports betting regulations.
While Meeks did not detail why such a bet could be problematic, he and others have said previously that first-pitch wagers could be fixed more easily because — like some other bets — they involve a single player in a single moment.
Meeks didn’t say whether he would propose barring such bets in Maryland, or simply monitoring them more closely than other wagers.
The counsel was not available to be interviewed after the hearing, and an MLB spokesman said his written statement had not yet been submitted. The public comment period ends Monday, and James Butler, the agency’s regulations coordinator, said the goal is to have the final regulations published in the Oct. 22 Maryland Register.
Betting sites are expected to be licensed at the state’s six casinos, its thoroughbred horse racing tracks and the Baltimore stadium homes of the Ravens and Orioles, among other sites, as well as via apps.
Applications that pass the background investigations will be sent to the new Sports Wagering Application Review Commission, which has the final say on awarding licenses. Sports wagering is expected to be up and running in Maryland in the late fall or winter, according to the agency.
Maryland-based betting sites are expected to offer pregame wagers on the outcomes of games and individual players’ performances, as well as in-game bets.
Around the country, professional sports leagues have been making deals with sports betting providers allowing the providers to use their official statistics from games. Since wagers can hinge on the outcome of a single pitch or yard, the leagues say that using official data helps prevent fraud.
Under the proposed Maryland regulations, the state says sports leagues may submit requests “to require a sports wagering licensee to use official league data to settle a wager.”
If the approval is granted, the sports betting operator is required to begin using the sports league’s statistics data exclusively within 60 days.
“From the view of sports leagues, this is a consumer protection issue,” Meeks said.
Del. Darryl Barnes, head of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, said at the hearing that the regulations must reflect the General Assembly’s desire that minorities be given ample opportunity to share in sportsbook ownership.
The law approved by the General Assembly early this year includes a grant program for minority entrepreneurs funded by application fees from the big players in the industry. Lawmakers included language saying the law should be implemented so it “maximizes the ability” of minorities and women to participate in the industry, including through owning companies that win licenses.
Barnes said in an interview that he wants to ensure the agency “understands the regulations should be worded more strongly. Equity and inclusion means ownership.”
Barnes said it would be unfair if the big, brick-and-mortar licensees, such as casinos, were not only allowed to begin offering sports wagering on site but also were granted licenses ahead of other applicants for mobile sports betting apps.
Mobile and other online platforms “are probably more lucrative than the brick-and-mortar,” Barnes said. “If we can ensure that all (mobile) applicants have the opportunity to start at the same time, that would be more advantageous to minorities. It levels the playing field.”
The gambling agency declined to comment after the hearing. A spokesperson said Butler and other officials would not answer questions about the regulations while they were being finalized.