New commissioner Rob Manfred says it's time for Major League Baseball to give "fresh consideration" to an issue it has shunned for decades -- legalized sports betting.
"Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization," Manfred said Thursday on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," "and I think it's important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be."
For decades, baseball's position on sports betting has been one of utter disdain. Manfred's comments were tempered -- especially compared to NBA commissioner Adam Silver's call for federal legalization -- but represent a dramatic shift from MLB's longstanding staunch opposition.
"Gambling in terms of our society has changed its presence on legalization, and I think it's important for there to be a conversation between me and the owners about what our institutional position will be." MLB commissioner Rob Manfred
Manfred noted that the Office of the Commissioner was formed specifically to deal with gambling, after the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series. Baseball also was rocked by a gambling scandal in 1989, when it was revealed that all-time hits leader Pete Rose had bet on baseball while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Rose was banned for life by then-commissioner Fay Vincent.
In addition, recently retired commissioner Bud Selig said in 2012 deposition testimony that he was "appalled" that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was attempting to legalize sports betting.
But, as Manfred noted Thursday, sports betting has rapidly become more socially acceptable. Baseball, along with the NFL, NBA and NHL, are participating in advertising and sponsorship deals with daily fantasy sports. Last March, Major League Baseball endorsed daily fantasy sports operator DraftKings as the "official mini fantasy game of MLB.com."
Silver emphasized his support of legalization in a November op-ed in The New York Times. He called on Congress to create a federal framework of regulations and allow states to authorize betting on professional sports.
In late January, Silver told ESPN The Magazine that he had spoken to the commissioners of the other major U.S. leagues about sports betting and that they all were studying the issue intensively.
"I understand the arguments that Adam made," Manfred said Thursday, "and I think the most appropriate thing for me at this point ... is to wait until I've had a chance to deal with the owners on this topic."
Approximately $725 million was wagered on baseball in 2014 at Nevada's legal sportsbooks. The American Gaming Association estimates $138.9 billion is wagered illegally on all sports annually in the U.S.