Baseball’s about-face on gambling will be even more pronounced in 2021, as the Washington Nationals announced plans Monday to open the first sportsbook at an MLB stadium, and for an app that will allow fans at Nats games to place bets from their seats.
The team announced it has a deal with BetMGM to become its official gaming partner, starting down a path that could see fans placing bets by opening day and using the sportsbook by summer.
According to the Washington Post:
The BetMGM sportsbook at Nationals Park is tentatively scheduled to open this summer, with betting windows, electronic betting kiosks, food and drink. Plans have yet to be finalized, but the sportsbook will be open year-round and occupy the former “Center Field Social” space at the corner of N St. and Half St. SE, located to the right of and just outside the center field gate. It will not be accessible from inside the ballpark. The BetMGM app, which, under D.C. law may only be used to place bets inside and within the immediate vicinity of the stadium, could launch by Opening Day.
Gambling and baseball have a long and complicated relationship. Of the major sports leagues, MLB is the one that had been most steadfast in distancing itself from gambling over the years. The Black Sox scandal and Pete Rose’s ban from baseball for betting remain some of baseball’s biggest black eyes — the Rose scandal, in particular, turned the phrase “betting on baseball” into a scarlet letter of sorts.
But times have changed and even MLB is embracing betting, as more states legalize sports gaming. The league has partnered with daily fantasy sites for years now, something that often riled up the “Let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame” crowd.
Of course, these are two vastly different things. The Nats’ deal with BetMGM will allow fans to bet on what happens during a game. (Yahoo Sports is also a BetMGM partner.) MLB’s code of conduct still prohibits players and coaches from gambling, which is what got Rose in trouble.
Teams and the league plan to use gaming as a way to engage new fans — a boost that the sport as a whole could use. The thinking goes: Baseball can get a lot more interesting when fans can bet on the outcome of every play from their seat on their smartphone.
Still, the Nationals say they’ll be “extremely careful” with rolling out their in-stadium gambling, telling the Washington Post:
“This partnership is going to bring new ways to engage with the game of baseball, and really sports in general, for all of our fans,” Jake Burns, the Nationals’ executive vice president of business operations, told the Washington Post. “We’re going to be extremely careful with how we roll this out. We have a lot of fans who aren’t of legal age, or simply just don’t want to bet, but our goal is to give every fan the option to have the best experience that they can at the ballpark.”
The Chicago Cubs were the first MLB team to enter into a gaming partnership. They saddled up with DraftKings in September. The Cubs say they have plans to open a sportsbook near Wrigley Field, but the Nationals Park sportsbook is the first to be announced at an MLB complex.
And you can bet that more will be coming.
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