Satellite baseball leaves bettors out in the cold

May 29, 2001 10:39 AM

This happens nearly every summer day in Las Vegas. A bettor makes a wager on a baseball game. Then the bettor waits for the game to start on television.

Come first pitch, the bettor finds out the game is not being shown in that book because it is blacked out in the Las Vegas area.

You know that feeling? Stuck watching some ticker, or the scoreboard in the book to find out about the game?

Major League Baseball’s restrictions and blackouts are probably the least fan friendly of the major sports leagues. Sports books buy the league’s satellite packages, mostly through DirecTV, and it is up to MLB to decide which games are on DirecTV’s package. So, don’t blame the sports book right away.

"We try to show every game we can," said Caesars Palace race and sports book director Chuck Esposito. "Most people realize we can’t show all the games."

Most games on the betting board each day aren’t televised on ESPN, ESPN2, WGN or TBS, etc, which are on cable television in Las Vegas.

"Major League Baseball is so far in the old," said Imperial Palace sports book director Ed Salmons. "(Their) restrictions are only hurting themselves."

During the season, games that are televised somewhere, can’t be shown in books for restriction reasons.

Network rights

One problem concerns particular time periods.

On Wednesday nights, ESPN has the rights to show any game nationally on that time period, not DirecTV. So on those nights, the average book can only show one to three ESPN games and other games on local cable television, when there are about 12 games going.

However, a few books, like the Fiesta’s, show ESPN alternate games because they subscribe to DirecTV’s ESPN package. ESPN shows two games in a time period, but one is shown in a particular geographical area.

And there’s another time period that frustrates bettors. Starting June 2, every Saturday Fox-TV will have regional broadcasts of four games on its affiliates. Las Vegas, like just about everyone else in the country, will get one game, predominately at 1 p.m., so at the 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. time period, the other three games cannot be picked up by satellite in the books.

Or will that be the case this year?

According to Salmons, Major League Baseball has unscrambled local affiliate broadcasts on regular satellite television this season. But will Fox regional broadcasts on Saturdays be unscrambled?

"If I were betting, we would say ”˜no,’ but I’m always hopeful," Salmons said. "Those games are hooked up with the national network, not the local station."

Here is another problem:

DirecTV shows games from regional cable-TV networks. So, let’s say you wanted to watch that Toronto Blue Jays-Boston Red Sox game this past weekend. You probably didn’t see any of the three games because it was not on DirecTV’s package. The Blue Jays’ broadcast was on Canadian networks, while the Red Sox were on a local affiliate. Major League Baseball does not let those channels’ broadcast on the DirecTV package.

Over the past weekend, Salmons said he found Boston TV station Fox-25, which carries Red Sox games locally there and put Sunday’s game on television at the IP.

Some books have non-DirecTV satellites that pick up local affiliates from around the country. For example, the Fiesta can pick up Miami’s WAMI-TV, which carries Florida Marlins games locally.

LV: A’s country?

Major League Baseball considers as the Las Vegas area’s home teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Anaheim Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks, Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants. However, the San Diego Padres, who are geographically closer than the San Francisco area teams, are not considered a home team here. Most Padres’ games are on a local cable station in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Club race and sports book director Jonathan Jester said, "We’re in the worst place in the country for blackouts. We get blacked out or scrambled for satellite television for (baseball) teams in the Los Angeles area and the San Francisco area."

So if any of those five "home" teams are on local television affiliates, then the books cannot show those games because of blackout restrictions, according to Salmons.

"We have five home teams. We can only watch those teams when they are on (regional cable networks)," he added.

DirecTV will not offer local affiliate games on its package, unless the opposing team will have the game televised on its cable network. So if the Dodgers are on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, or Angles on KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, you will not find the game televised in a sports book due to restrictions. The other team’s cable network will have it blacked out in Las Vegas.

Non-televised games

And don’t forget, some baseball games are just not televised anywhere. Find a television schedule somewhere and at least make sure a game is being shown somewhere in the country. That Devil Rays-Royals game may have no coverage.

But to be fair to Major League Baseball, over 50 percent of games televised are on the DirecTV package. Most books, especially Strip casinos and surrounding ones, have DirecTV’s package, so ask the books what packages they subscribe to.

(Part 2 will focus on the price of satellite television for sports books and what certain satellites sports books own”¦)