Poll Shows 1 In 5 Fans Would Follow Baseball More Closely If They Could Bet On It


A poll released this week by Seton Hall University showed that 19% of respondents said they would follow baseball more closely if they could legally bet on the games — compared to 72% who said they would not.

Once those numbers were released, poll director Rick Gentile said there was an interesting range of reactions. For some, the figure for how many would follow the sport more closely was viewed as “only 19%.”

“If Major League Baseball could figure out anything that leads to 1 in 5 people to follow the sport more closely, I have to think they’d leap at that,” Gentile told NJ Online Gambling. “So I’m not sure where ‘only’ comes from.

“When a company buys a Super Bowl commercial for $5 million, how happy would they be if they got a 19% return on investment?” Gentile added.

Another reason Gentile thinks that number should be considered strong is that betting on baseball is something that many fans have never considered and wouldn’t know how to do.

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“A point spread in football, or even basketball, a fan sees that and says, ‘Yes, I understand that,'” Gentile said. “But show them that a team is ‘minus 150,’ and they have no idea what that means.”

How big is MLB betting in NJ?

Despite that assessment from Gentile, it’s clear that plenty of New Jerseyans — and a significant helping of New Yorkers whose state has yet to embrace sports betting — have figured it out.

Last year, a total of $157.7 million was wagered on Major League Baseball at New Jersey’s legal, regulated sports books. That’s in spite of the fact that the first bets were not cast until mid-June at Monmouth Park and Borgata, mid-July at the Meadowlands Racetrack, and at four more Atlantic City casinos only in the last two months of baseball season.

Even more significantly, other than an Aug. 6  start for DraftKings Sportsbook, there was no mobile sports betting in New Jersey until six rivals joined the fray in the final week of August and the first week of September.

Mobile is now accounting for roughly 80% of the total sports betting handle in the state.

While the sportsbook operators surely wished to get more of the MLB season on the board, they didn’t exactly get rich off that $157.7 mm wagered. The “win” was just $4.6 mm, or 2.9%. That made MLB easily the worst sport for the books.

Not all polls are the same

A November 2018 Seton Hall survey found that 70% of Americans said they would be more likely to watch a game if they have a bet on it.

Gentile says that in polling on gambling over the years, the need to simplify the questions can make it difficult to compare apples and — well, different varieties of apples.

One question was about betting in general, one about legal betting. It’s quite possible that those who already have a bookie or use an offshore betting site will say “no” to this recent question because they don’t intend to change their habits.

Also, Gentile said because many respondents have rarely or never bet, the questions are somewhat abstract for them.

“Watching is the first step towards creating a paying fan,” Gentile noted at the time. “In the 1980s, the leagues became aware that fantasy sports were heightening interest, and eventually, they embraced it. Now they appear to be ‘all in’ with something once impossible to imagine.”

That November poll had one particularly curious result: 61% said they believe that legalizing betting on sports events will lead to cheating or fixing of games.

Gentile said that among the possibilities for that answer are that many people aren’t aware that an estimated $150 billion already is wagered in the U.S., the vast majority of it occurring illegally.

For Pete’s sake

As far as this week’s poll about baseball, the other gambling question — most of the poll focused on pace of play and rule changes — concerned MLB’s all-time hits leader, Pete Rose.

The question was worded, “Pete Rose has been prohibited from being elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame because he gambled on baseball games while an active player and manager. Do you think because sports betting has been legalized in some states, the prohibition on Rose getting into the Hall should be lifted?”

While 52% said yes and just 30% said no, Gentile notes that three years ago, 56% supported Rose getting into the Hall in spite of betting on his own Cincinnati Reds team.

(Well, Pete, it could be worse. Asked if players linked to performance-enhancing drugs should be permitted into the Hall, a whopping 70% said no vs. 19% who said yes.)

The fine print

About the Seton Hall poll, direct from the release:

This poll was conducted by telephone April 16-19 among adults in the United States. The Seton Hall Sports Poll is conducted by the Sharkey Institute within the Stillman School of Business.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent. Certain questions, including those regarding rules changes, were asked only of those who said that they followed baseball, of whom 456 participated with a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percent. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard landline and cell phones. The error for subgroups may be higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.


Photo by Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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