Over the last week, the Major League Players Association and Major League Baseball agreed to extend existing rules that prohibit players from engaging in gambling to include daily fantasy sports. The agreement would, however, allow for players to endorse or promote daily fantasy sports companies.
Major League Baseball and professional sports teams in the United States have a long-standing position of denouncing gambling in their sports, despite some estimates that offshore operations take in over $400 billion in offshore wagers each year.
In an interview last week at the California IMG World Congress, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred made a distinction between gambling and daily fantasy sports but noted that daily fantasy sports (DFS) is still gambling. In the MLB/MLPA agreement of last week, daily fantasy sports leagues were determined to be subjected to the so-called Rule 21. This is the Major League Baseball rule established in 1927 that prohibits players from engaging in gambling activities and imposes stiff consequences for violators (read: Pete Rose).
All major sports have fully embraced recreational fantasy sports leagues, and Major League Baseball has even developed close ties with DFS heavyweight Draft Kings and and recently has also made a full endorsement of real money daily fantasy sports.
Professional athletes are generally allowed to participate in fantasy sports as long as there is no real money at stake. Players talking about their fantasy sports teams is becoming more commonplace. During the 2014 NFL season, Larry Donnell even told reporters that a monster game early in the season sabotaged his for-fun fantasy football team that week because he didn’t start himself.
Today’s professional athletes make millions of dollars a year so there is little incentive to be influenced by gambling, especially when comparing today’s inflated salaries with the relatively modest salaries of say, fifty years ago. Despite the popularity of fantasy sports and daily fantasy sports leagues, the sports leagues are now drawing the line at real money play. There are undoubtedly fewer incentives to cheat, but the league’s sensitive relationship with gambling and concerns about the purity of the game, means that the league does not want to give even the appearance of a potential conflict of interest.