The proliferation of legal sports betting across the country, coupled with Major League Baseball’s embrace of the new revenue-generating opportunity, has only bolstered calls for Pete Rose to have a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The chorus of support for Rose shows no signs of abating.
The all-time leader in hits remains one of the most popular baseball players in America, despite last playing more than three decades ago. One could argue that his lifetime ban from the sport for gambling on games when he was a player and a coach has made him even more famous than he would have been had he not. Gambling on the sport when he could influence the outcome of games was the cardinal sin, and in 1991 he became “permanently ineligible” for induction into the HoF. The never-ending saga of whether or not Major League Baseball should lift the ban has kept Rose’s name in the media. His 4,256 hits, a record that may never be broken, is the main reason why many say his situation is a travesty.
While the chances of the 78-year-old entering the HoF while he’s alive are probably +10000, he’s a Hall of Famer in the eyes of Cincinnati Reds fans. Rose is in the Reds Hall of Fame, and he remains a local hero, despite his checkered past. The three-time World Series champion was born in the Queen City.
Rose was the subject of op-ed this weekend in the Boston Globe, with veteran sports writer Bob Ryan claiming that Major League Baseball is guilty of “hypocrisy of the highest order” for doing business with gambling interests in the wake of the May 2018 Supreme Court ruling that lifted the federal prohibition, while at the same time not reinstating Rose. It’s a common argument. Ryan added that Rose’s love for baseball might only be surpassed by his love of gambling, which he still does to this day.
Opportunity for Rose?
Gambling has a long history in the Cincinnati area, with Newport, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River, existing as a pre-Las Vegas gambling mecca from the 1920s to the 1960s. Rose was born in 1941.
The term “Sin City” was first used to describe Newport, not Las Vegas, per a recent article on the town’s infamous past by the Los Angeles Times. Newport eventually drew the ire of the federal government.
For better or worse, Pete Rose is one of the most famous gamblers in American history, and that could (we’ll argue should) create an opportunity for him as legal sports betting replaces underground, illicit betting. After many decades, the activity is coming out of the shadows in many cities and states.
Many legal sportsbooks that have opened over the past year and change have invited former athletes to place the ceremonial first bet, with MLB Hall of Famer Andrew Dawson placing the first bet at an Iowa casino last week being just a recent example. Business leaders and state officials have also been involved with the ceremonial wagers, but former athletes have usually garnered more press attention.
Despite his ban from baseball, Rose should be a prime candidate for placing the first bet at Cincinnati’s casino. It’s a no-brainer, and there’s arguably no better person to do it. It would put the national spotlight on the city’s legal brick-and-mortar sportsbook at a time when sports betting is becoming more commonplace. Retail books need all the help they can get to stand out, especially with sports bettors largely favoring online/mobile options over in-person wagering (85% of New Jersey’s handle is online).
Rose is the biggest sports star in Cincinnati, and him placing the first legal bet could actually serve as an endorsement of a legal, regulated industry. For the Cincinnati area market, who is better than Rose to highlight the option of betting with a legal operator over a local bookie or offshore online platform? Major League Baseball might not love the spectacle, but it’d be good marketing for the casino (and positive press for Rose).
Rose’s manager, Ryan Fiterman, president of Fiterman Sports Group, told US Bets that such an opportunity would be of interest, if offered to the Hit King. He said that Rose “would entertain the idea,” should the casino make an offer to bring him in for the media event.
Ohio’s sports betting efforts
State lawmakers in Ohio are still working behind the scenes on advancing sports betting legislation, after a pair of bills were filed earlier this year. It’s been relatively quiet in the Buckeye State on the issue, with no major developments on the sports betting issue for a handful of weeks.
Indiana, Ohio’s neighbor to the west, will kick off sports wagering early next month, which will put even more pressure on the Buckeye State. Pennsylvania to the east has had legal sports betting since late last year. West Virginia has had it since last year as well, and Michigan is considering legislation. The only bordering state that Ohio is currently ahead of on regulating traditional sports wagering is Kentucky.
The Cincinnati area is home to the 18th largest commercial casino gaming market in the country, according to the American Gaming Association. Last year $618.3 mm in gaming revenue was produced by the legal gaming facilities in the area. With sports betting just outside southwest Ohio in southeast Indiana, the Jack Casino Cincinnati, which turned six years old earlier this year, will be at a disadvantage. It’s a matter of when, not if, Ohio allows retail sports betting (and more than likely online/mobile as well).
The property will eventually become Hard Rock Casino Cincinnati, thanks to a deal announced in April. Jack Entertainment agreed to sell the casino to Hard Rock International and VICI Properties. The $780 mm deal also includes the Turfway Park racetrack in northern Kentucky, which could have a sportsbook if the Bluegrass State is eventually able to enact a sports gambling law.
Ohio is unlikely to pass a bill this year thanks to the current lack of a consensus on whether the Ohio Lottery or the Ohio Casino Control Commission should regulate. Next year possesses good odds for the legislation, with Gov. Mike DeWine already signaling his intent to have his state regulate the activity. One of the reasons for regulation, regardless of the state, is to explicitly prohibit anyone who could impact the result of a sporting event from wagering. Rose does not do any work for the Reds, though this year he has griped about that situation. The franchise still uses his name and image to sell tickets.
It is possible that Ohio kicks off sports betting during next year’s MLB season, and who better to place a bet on a baseball game than Rose? If he wants to be consistent, he should bet on the Reds to win, but given the damaged relationship with both the franchise and the league, could anyone fault Rose betting against the team if he liked the price on their opponent? Regardless, it would be a media frenzy.
Photo Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports