Updated: October 1, 2022
Sports leagues and their teams take a lot of shit for their love of the almighty dollar and much (or most) of the time, deservedly so. I love sports – I have been a devout Brewers, Packers, and Bucks fan since I was in swaddling clothes – but team owners can go fuck themselves with their personal seat licenses. I got to pay thousands of dollars for the right to pay thousands of dollars more for season tickets? Yeah, no. But most teams draw the line somewhere. One of those teams is not the Pittsburgh Pirates, who want a piece of the future Pennsylvania sports betting pie for themselves.
The way I just phrased that doesn’t really describe the situation accurately. The Pirates have a wonderful baseball stadium, considered one of the best in all of Major League Baseball. The Pirates also contributed just $40 million of the $262 million it cost to build the stadium, with taxpayers footing the bill for most of the rest of it.
And now the Pirates want revenue generated from sports betting to be allocated toward maintenance for the stadium. That’s right. A professional baseball team which had revenues of $258 million and operating income of $35 million last year, a franchise which Forbes values at $1.2 billion, is basically claiming poverty, asking that some of the money that sports books make go to them.
The team’s president, Frank Coonelly, wrote a letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board with such a request. Here is the relevant part of the letter and yes, this section really was all one, single paragraph:
On a local team level, the Pirates are obviously one the handful of professional sports organizations that will be most directly affected by any new regulations in Pennsylvania. We think it is important to note that any revenue generated through sports wagering is largely dependent on organizations like the Pirates who actually supply the sports wagering product. Without professional sports there can be no professional sports betting. Providing a professional sports product is a costly endeavor. While our landlord is responsible for capital repair and improvements at PNC Park, the Pirates are responsible for maintenance and operational expenses at PNC Park, which has consistently been named the premier ballpark in the country since its opening in 2001. The capital needs at PNC Park are significant and unfortunately are much higher than the current funds allocated to them by our landlord. We have been engaged in constant dialogue over the past five to seven years with city, county and state officials about the need allocate a funding source to the capital needs of PNC Park. It stands to reason that a portion of the revenue collected from sports wagering should be allocated to the maintenance and capital upkeep of PNC Park and the other sports-based facilities in Pennsylvania which provide for sports wagering in the first place. We are concerned that no such provision is included in the current law or the Regulation.
That’s some bold ask right there. My favorite part is where Coonelly says, “Without professional sports there can be no professional sports betting,” as if the Pirates launched the franchise in order to allow people to bet on sports.
You may be thinking, “Well, at least the Pirates aren’t asking for those bullshit integrity fees. At least they are straight-up being honest and saying why they want the money.”
Oh, did I forget to mention that the Pirates also want an integrity fee? Take a look:
We are very concerned that the current iteration of the Regulation does not call for any portion of sports wagering revenue to be set aside to ensure the integrity of the sports on which the wagering is based. We believe an “integrity fee” is essential to fund programs educating our players, fans, and the general public regarding the potential involvement of unsavory characters and organizations that may attempt to alter the outcome of these sporting events. The proceeds of this integrity fee would also allow teams such as the Pirates and leagues such as MLB to monitor betting lines and betting information internally.
Um, assholes, you should already be monitoring betting activity, at least at the league level. If you haven’t been, you have been shirking on your responsibilities.
Besides, filtering money to the teams and leagues from sports betting is self-defeating. Sports books operate on very thin margins, so any additional fees that come out of their coffers cut their margins close to zero. And if fees are instituted that make it unprofitable to run a sports wagering business, then guess what? There won’t be any sports wagering businesses and in turn, there won’t be any fees for the teams and leagues to grab.
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