With former casino owner Donald Trump in the White House, there has been renewed momentum around the effort to get sports betting legalized in America.
And on Wednesday at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in New York, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that he is monitoring the issue and re-thinking pro baseball’s long-held stance on the issue.
“There is this buzz out there in terms of people feeling that there may be an opportunity here for additional legalized sports betting,” Manfred said. “We are reexamining our stance on gambling. It’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the owners.”
When fans bet on games, Manfred continued, it “can be a form of fan engagement, it can fuel the popularity of a sport. We all understand that.”
And make no mistake: fans are betting on games. The American Gaming Association estimates that $4.7 billion was bet on this year’s Super Bowl, an all-time high—but 97% of those bets were placed illegally.
“Sports betting happens,” Manfred said. “Whether it’s legalized here or not, it’s happening out there. So I think the question for sports is really, ‘Are we better off in a world where we have a nice, strong, uniform, federal regulation of gambling that protects the integrity of sports, provides sports with the tools to ensure that there is integrity in the competition … Or are we better off closing our eyes to that and letting it go on as illegal gambling? And that’s a debatable point.”
You can certainly discern what Manfred’s own opinion might be from his comments, especially the part on the benefits of federal regulation. And his peer over in basketball, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, has argued passionately and publicly for legalizing and regulating form of sports betting. Silver, Manfred says, “has framed it the best.”
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.