Northwoods League’s Big Wagering Gamble

Editor/Collegiate Baseball

ROCHESTER, Minn. — For the first time in history, a summer collegiate baseball league is actively pursuing legal, regulated sports gambling on the outcome of their games.

In anticipation of its 28th season of baseball, the Northwoods League has partnered with U.S. Integrity as it seeks to gain approval for regulated wagering on league games in multiple Midwestern states.

USI is assisting in the gambling approval process and will monitor all Northwoods League games for potentially nefarious betting-related behavior from game-fixing to game manipulation by players, coaches and other people.

In addition, the Northwoods League is also looking to engage its fans via a fantasy baseball game and a free-to-play prediction game embedded in the league’s phone app.

“In the past two years, legal regulated sports betting has taken off in 25-plus U.S. states,” said Matthew Holt, CEO of U.S. Integrity.

“Baseball fans are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to get more engaged in their local teams, and all the Northwoods League’s mobile innovations do that.

“We are very well positioned to pursue this endeavor with our video and technological capabilities,” said Northwoods League Chairman Dick Radatz, Jr.

“U.S. Integrity has taken a year-long process and reduced it to a matter of months. We are looking forward to a long and mutually beneficial partnership.”

In the Midwest, betting on sports is legal in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. Fantasy sports are legal in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and North Dakota.

“Whether you are playing fantasy or betting on games, adult fans are eight times more likely to watch a game if they have some sort of wager on the event,” said Holt.

Reason For Gambling
Matt Bomberg, president of the Great Lakes Division of the Northwoods League, explained why the league feels it is necessary to venture into gambling.

“It feels like it is a natural step in our evolution with technology we have built into our league,” said Bomberg.

“We have an app, scoring system that we have built internally, video broadcast of games and also have a ticketing system.

“Sports wagering is another piece, and we want to see where it takes us. We are building a free to play gaming app as well. We see what others are doing and why not us?”

Bomberg said the Northwoods League will be working with U.S. Integrity to get odds and lines on league games during the summer.

“Let’s say William Hill (Sports Betting) or DonBest puts out a line on our games, that’s fine. It could be fed into our system with BetMGM or something similar to that such as Fanduel sportsbook, Draftkings sportsbook and others which are in the states the Northwoods League is in. Someone could be at one of our games, pull that app up on their cell phone, see Northwood League games and place a bet on the game from their seat at the ballpark.”

Bomberg said the 22 owners of baseball franchises in the league didn’t formally vote for sports wagering on league games.

“We have a 5-member board, and the affiliates have one representative on that board. Dick Radatz is the Northwoods League Chairman who pushes ideas. That is how we get things done which is different from other leagues where they have a representative from each team, and they vote on everything.”

Bomberg said the Northwoods League has not contacted anybody from the NCAA or a university compliance officer at an NCAA school to see if their new venture into wagering might cause a problem with players from NCAA schools being in the league this summer.

“We haven’t had any of those discussions yet. But you can bet on college football or college basketball. It is legal to bet on sports in the states we are in (Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois) for the Northwoods League. We don’t see any reason with the right people behind this in U.S. Integrity that it won’t be a good move for our league.

“That’s the whole reason we have them involved. This is their business and what they do. We wouldn’t do this without a reputable company like U.S. Integrity involved in the process with all their checks and balances in play.

“We have it in our league rules that front office staff from different teams, players, coaches and others can’t gamble on games. In fact, it is in their contracts. We will put a lot of things in place to watch suspect activity taking place. It isn’t something we take lightly or something we are doing in a haphazard manner.

“We have been working on it diligently and have a plan in place. Why not us and why not now with everything going on in these states we are in?”

Bomberg said the new venture into wagering with Northwoods League games should help bring in more fans and revenue.

“Doing this helps to further our brand around the country. We aren’t looking to only have games bet on in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana and Illinois. We would like our Northwoods League games to be available to be bet on throughout the country. The Northwoods League brand will grow as a result.

“As far as attendance, it can’t do anything but help within the states where gambling is legal. Overall, I see our attendance as being stable and possibly grow with wagering on our games.

“As we grow, we may have expansion as well.

“Studies show that if you bet on a game, you are eight times more likely to watch a game if a person has some sort of wager on the event.

“If we are standing still, we are moving backwards. Last summer, we were one of the few college summer leagues that played during the COVID-19 pandemic. We had over 200,000 in attendance despite limited seating because of protocols in place by different health departments in cities our teams are in.”

Gambling Problems & Risk
Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky of McGill University in Canada is the Director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.

He also has been a key investigator into trends in NCAA athlete gambling behaviors and attitudes which have been compiled every four years since 2004.

Derevensky was concerned about what the Northwoods League is trying to achieve by furthering their brand on the back of gambling.

“Yeah, it’s all about the money,” said Derevensky.

“Clearly, there is an identifiable population of athletes who get overly involved in gambling. So this venture has the potential of being highly problematic. I read the Northwoods League release, but it didn’t specify which type of bets that will be taking place.

“You can have in-play bets such as who will strikeout first or who will hit a batter or whatever in a game. There are a wide variety of in-play bets you can have. That can be problematic for young people who are trying to make money just as the league is trying to make money.”

To read more of this story which covers all angles of gambling on Northwoods League games and the potential repercussions to student-athletes and coaches, purchase the March 26, 2021 edition of Collegiate Baseball or subscribe by CLICKING HERE.