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Sports on the web

Fox gambling links surprise MLB

By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

Major League Baseball is vigilant about insulating itself from any connection to sports gambling, but several sports sites -- including that of one of baseball's TV partners, Fox Sports -- have gambling sites just a few clicks away.

There's precedent for a sports league asking a partner site to pull gambling-related ads -- the NFL did so with Yahoo Sports in 2000, and a similar request could be ahead, faster than you can say Pete Rose.

Many sports sites, like most newspapers, including the Times, run daily lines with point spreads on games, but foxsports.com has taken another step with its "Odds" page. Each game has an updated spread and over-under, and each is a link to instantedge.com, a Las Vegas-based handicapping company that provides information and analysis relating to sports gambling.

The main page spotlights one game and offers tips on bets to take. A link underneath invites visitors to "BET THIS GAME NOW," redirecting them to an international sportsbook site. Foxsports.com argues that because its site has no direct links to gambling sites, it has enough degrees of separation to be comfortable.

"We're not propagating gambling. We're not encouraging that and we don't want anyone to bet on baseball," said Ross Levinsohn, the site's senior vice president and general manager. "The people who are gambling on baseball are probably doing it anyway and don't need us to help them. ... We have no contact with people who allow you to bet on baseball."

The odds links on the Fox site are a form of advertising, and Levinsohn said his site has had links to InstantEdge for seven months, including during the 2002 NFL season. The gambling sites are always at least "two hops away," he said, adding that his company's contract with InstantEdge prohibits the company from taking any bets.

Whether baseball officials are as comfortable with the relative proximity of baseball and gambling remains to be seen. MLB spokesman Rich Levin was not aware of the links on Fox's site when notified Wednesday, and a day later he said the MLB officials he spoke with also were unaware.

"We're going to have to look into it," Levin said. "I don't know what our rights are, but it's something we'll be looking into."

What separates the Fox site from others is the active conduit to gambling sites. SI.com, for instance, does not carry any lines, and ESPN.com and Sportsline.com have "Daily Lines" pages offering separate lines as issued by four books, but no links to those establishments. Baseball might be able to strong-arm a site it has a billion-dollar contract with, but other sites are more flagrant in accepting gambling ads on baseball pages. NBC Sports has not televised baseball games since 2000, but the same network that once had reporter Jim Gray grill Rose on air about gambling now points fans in that direction.

Click on the Sports link at msnbc.com and you're first directed to an ad for Casino on Net, a site that offers online gambling, though not on sporting events. Once you're on NBC's baseball page, an "Odds" link takes you to covers.msnbc.com, where the odds themselves are live links to five sportsbook sites. An ad on the page, touting an international sportsbook site, literally reads "Bet on Baseball."

TID-BYTES: There's a bold new green background on the intro page at mikeweir.com, and the official site for the Masters champ has all kinds of cool links. There's a page listing fellow Canadian golfers, a post-Masters diary explaining how Canada's prime minister called to congratulate him and year-by-year stats.

-- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at auman@sptimes.com .

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