It has been nearly one year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA, the federal ban on sports betting. That move allowed individual states to legalize sports betting in their own state, and seven already have, joining Nevada to make eight states with some form of legalized sports betting.
You might think the legal change would also prompt a change in attitudes toward Pete Rose, who is still banned from baseball for life for betting on games.
It has not.
The newest Seton Hall Sports Poll, shared exclusively with Yahoo Finance, finds that 52% of Americans surveyed believe Major League Baseball should lift the ban on Rose—that’s actually down from 56% in 2016. (Seton Hall did not ask the Pete Rose question in 2017 or 2018.) For its newest poll, Seton Hall’s Sharkey Institute surveyed 676 American adults across the country.
“When Rose bet, it wasn't legal, and obviously it was also against the rules of baseball,” says the survey’s director Rick Gentile. “So I suppose you could say from that standpoint, why should the change in law affect him? But if the rules against gambling have eased up, I would think you'd see a little more leniency.”
Of course, 52% still means that more than half of people think MLB should lift the ban on Rose. Gentile is surprised by that figure in comparison to public opinion about players who used steroids. Past Seton Hall Sports Polls have found that about 70% of fans believe players who used steroids should never get into the Hall of Fame. “And yet gambling, the greatest red line in baseball, is more okay,” Gentile says. “I find that remarkable, the difference between those two issues.”
The poll also found that only 19% of people said they would follow baseball more closely if they could legally bet on games in their state, a figure that may look surprisingly low in light of the popular theory that betting on games leads to deeper fan engagement. (72% of people surveyed said being able to legally bet on games would not make them follow baseball more closely.) “It's still not a bad number,” says Gentile. “Someone when we were looking over the results was saying, ‘Oh, only 33% of people said they'd follow baseball more closely if the games went faster. Well, ‘only’ 33%? what's wrong with that?”
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who took baseball’s top job in 2015, joined NBA Commissioner Adam Silver early on in publicly supporting sports betting legalization. At the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit in 2017, before the law was changed, Manfred said that MLB was “re-examining our stance on gambling.” And after SCOTUS struck down PASPA, MLB moved quickly, as did the NBA, NHL, and MLS, to make its first casino partnership with MGM. (The NFL went with Caesars.)
But the leagues are cozying up to casinos in the belief that legal betting stokes fan excitement and engagement, just as daily fantasy apps like DraftKings and FanDuel have always said the same. The latest Seton Hall survey casts some doubt on that theory. And it doesn’t deliver much encouraging news for Pete Rose.