For Cincinnati Reds fans, the phrase “betting on baseball” can almost feel triggering.
Before sports betting ads inundated MLB broadcasts, betting on baseball was considered a cardinal sin against the game. And no one “stained the game” more than Cincinnati’s native son Pete Rose.
Before Pete, the Reds’ first-ever World Series title was marred by the Black Sox Scandal in 1919, when some members of the Chicago White Sox threw the series because of gambling ties.
This spring, baseball betting drama again unfolded along the banks of the Ohio when someone tried to place a huge cash bet on a relatively obscure college baseball game at the BetMGM Sportsbook at Great American Ball Park. New details are emerging about that situation, and they are nearly as outrageous as mobsters fixing the World Series or an MLB manager betting on his own team in the 1980s.
This history makes it a tad surreal that Ohio online sports betting is now legal and anyone can bet on the Reds. Are we going to go down in shame like Pete Rose for firing off parlays on the home team? Or are we just suckers for an odds-boost?
Pete Rose was the ultimate competitor — and a notorious gambler
Go back to Jan. 1, the first day of legal sports betting in Ohio, and the Hit King himself placed the first bet at the Hard Rock Casino sportsbook in downtown Cincinnati: a $100 wager on the Reds to win the World Series.
That bet seemed ridiculous at the time — the Reds had the third-worst odds to win the title at 250-1. But the Reds have shockingly surged to a 55-47 record and sit just 1.5 games out of first place in the NL Central as of July 25. Today, their World Series odds are down to 60-1.
One of Cincinnati’s most decorated athletes of all time, the Hit King‘s downfall is well documented. A native Cincinnatian, Rose won rookie of the year in 1963 with the Reds and went on to earn 17 All-Star Game nods, one MVP award and finished top-10 in MVP voting 10 times. His record 4,256 career hits might never be broken.
Rose was a catalyst of one of baseball’s most iconic teams: the back-to-back, 1975-76 world champion Big Red Machine. He also won a world title with Philadelphia in 1980 and was the last player-manager in the majors from 1984-86. He played in his final All-Star game in 1985 at 45 years old.
Rose’s glory quickly unraveled with allegations that he bet on baseball games in which he played and managed. MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti in 1989 banned Rose from baseball for one year after an investigation determined that he had bet on games he managed, later making the ban permanent.
Rose reportedly sought counseling and treatment for a gambling addiction with hope of being reinstated. But three MLB commissioners have chosen not to reinstate Rose over the following decades, during which time he has been a fixture in Las Vegas selling autographs. He finally admitted in a 2004 book that he did in fact bet on baseball.
Cincinnatians still revere Rose, in part because he is one of the city’s biggest winners: a two-time World Series champion and MLB’s record-holder for most hits all time. In a city with zero Super Bowls and only two dusty NCAA Tournament championships in the early ’60s to speak of, Cincinnati Reds icons — especially the champs on the 1975-76 and 1990 teams — are cherished.
Still, there’s no Pete Rose plaque in baseball’s Hall of Fame. And there might never be.
1919 World Series betting scandal
The Cincinnati Reds have won five World Series titles (1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, 1990), but their first title is marred by the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
The 1919 Chicago White Sox allegedly conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series. While no players were convicted of crimes, eight were permanently banned from baseball, including the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson.
Reports at the time suggested that the White Sox as a team were displeased with owner Charlie Comisky, who was notoriously cheap. The White Sox had won the 1917 World Series and were favored to beat the upstart Reds.
Mob boss Arnold Rothstein was questioned about the fix but denied involvement and was never charged, though he reportedly won a large sum betting on the Reds to win.
Alabama betting scandal comes to Great American Ball Park
Pete Rose grew up on Cincinnati’s west side near a ferry that transports vehicles and pedestrians across the Ohio River into Kentucky. A couple hours north, outside of Indianapolis, sits Mooresville, Ind., where a youth baseball coach named Bert Eugene Neff Jr. is from.
According to Sports Illustrated, Neff is the man at the center of the college baseball betting scandal involving the University of Alabama. On April 28, Neff allegedly tried to bet more than $100,000 at the BetMGM Sportsbook at GABP on LSU to beat Alabama.
That bet size exceeded the maximum allowed on such an event (college baseball is not a heavily bet sport, so exceedingly large bets raise alarms). That’s where things take a most outrageous turn:
- Neff reportedly told BetMGM staff that he had inside information and still wanted to place the bets.
- Neff allegedly showed text messages on his phone to people inside the sportsbook, and security cameras caught the name of Alabama baseball head coach Brad Bohanon on the other end of the texts.
Sports Illustrated cited one source who said, “[Video cameras] can see the [text] conversation back-and-forth. It couldn’t have been any more reckless.”
The inside information was reportedly that Alabama was scratching its ace pitcher Luke Holman and would start another pitcher who hadn’t started a game since mid-March. LSU, the No.1-ranked team in the country, did end up winning the game, 8-6.
Alabama fired Bohanon just days later. It is unclear whether Neff will be charged with any crime for the incident.
Neff has a son who plays baseball for the University of Cincinnati, where two men were recently fired for “potential NCAA violations” that could be related to Neff. One report suggests that they were aware of Neff gambling on college baseball but did not report the information. Later in May, UC head baseball coach Scott Googins resigned.
Alabama betting scandal exposed because of competent sportsbook regulation
You could argue that Pete Rose has a legitimate gripe with MLB profiting off of baseball betting while the league upholds his lifetime ban. MLB has clearly determined that the additional revenue and attention from gambling is worth any potential integrity issues. But it should be noted that MLB has strict rules in place against players or team employees placing bets on the game.
Still, there’s a reason why states and leagues contract with a company like U.S. Integrity, a firm that monitors betting markets and flags suspicious activity. Both the Ohio Casino Control Commission and the SEC Conference contract with the company.
In the case of the Alabama betting scandal, the system worked. The OCCC took the game off the market, and Neff never placed his bet.
That’s important because the AP reported this month that the NCAA since 2018 has found 175 infractions of its sports-betting policy. There are reportedly 17 active investigations.
Let’s hope Cincinnati can stay out of the headlines as regulators and sportsbooks continue the fight against such a long history of integrity issues.