Which Leagues Won in First Year of Sports Betting Expansion

Which Leagues Won in First Year of Sports Betting Expansion

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act on May 14, 2018, has changed the American sports betting landscape.

As we hit the one-year anniversary, Gambling.com looks at the impact of PASPA’s repeal, where sports betting stands in America and what the future holds.

We begin with a look at leagues that have so far benefited or balked at the new sporting landscape.

SECAUCUS, N.J. - North American professional sports leagues were vociferously opposed to an expansion of legal sports betting in the United States … until they weren’t.

Some commissioners stances had begun to shift in the months before the Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act last May.

Some remained more vocally opposed to the practice in the immediate aftermath until pragmatism intervened. All began moving at varying paces, dependent largely on the attitude of fan bases and franchise owners, toward exploiting, if not embracing a rarity: a new revenue stream.

“Once PASPA was overturned, our view changed drastically,” NHL chief revenue officer Keith Wachtel said at Betting on Sports America 2019. “As everyone likes to ask, for 25 years the commissioner of the NHL, Gary Bettman, talked about the importance of monitoring sports betting and how sports leagues would be part of it.

“And then when people ask what changed over 25 years, the answer is the Supreme Court.”

NBA - Winner


No professional sports entity in North America has been as decisive and cunning in pivoting from a general opposition to legal sports betting as a theoretical to accepting and attempting to harvest it as a reality.

That is a direct result of the leadership of commissioner Adam Silver, whose arc in this timeline has taken him from being the first to propose the notion of an integrity fee to benefit sports leagues to an early dealmaker with gaming entities such as MGM Resorts International, Codere, Sportradar, The Stars Group and FanDuel.

When the concept of state legislatures imposing a tax or royalty on sportsbook operators, ostensibly for anti-corruption efforts, had become a non-starter, he shifted to the concept of a royalty on the product created by leagues and then, successfully to selling the NBA’s “official” data to gaming interests. Others followed.

Embracing the emerging concept that legal sports betting was a factor in fan engagement for a demographic that entertainment enterprises covet, Silver helped position the NBA in front, as he has consistently in his leadership role.

NFL – Loser


No league funnels as much traffic into sportsbooks, legal and offshore, as the most popular sport in America. But few have done less to exploit this fact for greater profit.

Maybe the NFL doesn’t need more television viewers. That hardly seems the case, even as the undisputed leader among the four major professional sports in the United States.

Certainly, the league’s 32 owners, as a group, have been receptive to finding new revenue streams. That’s why some of them, initially and most notably the Dallas Cowboys, became the first franchise to bring on an official casino sponsor in WinStar World Casino and Resort when commissioner Roger Goodell announced the relaxation of a league ban on such partnerships.

The Ravens and Raiders (Caesar’s) and Saints (Harrah’s) later took on gambling partners and the Jets announced deals with MGM and 888 Poker.

Finally, the last of the “big four” to do so, the NFL announced in January that it had partnered with Caesar’s also.

NHL – Winner


Like his NBA counterpart, Bettman was an early skeptic, going as far when the Golden Knights were announced as an expansion franchise in 2016 to say that “while we know gambling is part of the industry in Las Vegas, we're not going to make it all that easy for you to pick up a ticket, a gambling ticket, on your way into the arena.”

Vegas became an inaugural sensation and good citizen, however, reaching the Stanley Cup Final and William Hill signage has become ubiquitous in T-Mobile Arena, where fans bet freely on mobile devices. The NHL has subsequently aligned with MGM, FanDuel and WIlliam Hill as data and sports betting partners since the fall.

Although NHL betting handle remains miniscule compared to other major pro sports leagues, its improvement has bolstered Wachtel’s belief in legal sports betting as an engagement tool.

“For a sport like ours, if you look at the big four, our handle is by far the lowest,” Wachtel said. “We have the opportunity to grow that and we saw that in Las Vegas. More people percentage-wise have bet on the sport of hockey in the last two years than other sports from a growth standpoint. It’s still much smaller in comparison to the other sports leagues, but we feel there is potential for that to grow.

“When that grows, that just means that’s going to be more engagement. And then you take the casual fan, maybe someone that’s not interested in the sport of hockey, but they bet on it, and then when they bet on it, then maybe they’re going to watch. Once they watch, or once they attend a game, we think now we have them.”

Activation began early at the franchise level with William Hill building a branded lounge in the New Jersey Devils’ arena. The Washington Capitals plan to open a sportsbook in their arena once sports betting in implemented in the District of Columbia.

NCAA - Loser


That the NCAA pronounces its desire to shield its student-athletes from the scourge of corruption and unscrupulous gamblers is admirable.

There is little debate among industry analysts, lawyers and scholars that 18-to-22-year-old athletes helping to generate – in the case of sports such as football and men’s basketball – billions of combined dollars for their institutions and the NCAA through unpaid labor are the most susceptible to exploitation.

This could come through the seemingly innocuous relay of information of about injuries or be as egregious as the case of a University of Toldeo running back admitting he fumbled in a bowl game for $500.

Those who rebuke the claims of professional labor union executives about the influence of nefarious influences assert that a professional athlete earning millions would not be logically inclined to risk a livelihood over what would be minimal gain in an environment where sportsbooks diligently track wagering data and limit bet size.

None of this applies to the NCAA, where a summer job is an affront to amateurism.

The NCAA could fix a self-inflicted injustice, defuse a potential problem and blame the inevitable spread of legal sports betting. Rein in red-ink athletic department budgets, compensate players, make risking an education and a chance to play at the next level or enter the civilian workforce untainted an unwise and unthinkable option. Sign an official data deal to pay for it if it just can’t bring itself to share all that television revenue.

PGA – Winner

Tiger Woods

Golf and sports betting have a longer and more accepted mutual history than any other sport. On a participatory level, a rough day at the municipal course can be allayed by winning a couple bucks on a putt on the back nine.

On the spectator level, few sports – baseball among them – offers a speed of play more conducive to concocting or placing wagers.

On the star power level, golf fans very much enjoy watching and betting on Tiger Woods, and the 2019 resurrection tale he produced in winning his 15th major and fifth Masters illustrated just how much he still moves the needle. Woods’ run from reasonable pre-tournament betting choice to darling of casual sports bettors through the weekend illustrated his pull and led to massive hits – paid back, exponentially with media exposure – to national sportsbooks.

Sure, Woods cost the likes of FanDuel and William Hill at Augusta, but he likely launched a wave of sentimental/semi-analytical futures bets on his possible continued renaissance heading in the rest of the PGA Tour season.

And even though the made-for-television November match-play event between Woods and Phil Mickleson suffered from glitches, it likely was a beach-head moment for further mainstreaming legal sports betting as another facet of television viewership.

MLB – Loser


No professional sport remains as cognizant of the stigma of illegal sports betting as MLB, which as an industry was forced to begin wading through the process of mitigating its relationship with the new reality of legal sports wagering on the 100th anniversary of not only the sport’s darkest moment, but arguably the most notorious sports betting episode in American history: the Black Sox Scandal.

That often-misrepresented chapter in American sports history, plus gambling-induced fall from grace of all-time hits leader Pete Rose, understandably makes baseball executives wary. As recently as 2012, then-commissioner Bud Selig deemed gambling “evil.”

Current commissioner Rob Manfred began addressing the nettlesome issue publicly before law ever officially changed, telling Yahoo Finance in February, 2018, "There is this buzz out there in terms of people feeling that there may be an opportunity here for additional legalized sports betting. We are re- examining our stance on gambling. It's a conversation that's ongoing with the owners."

MLB signed MGM as “official gaming partner” in November, emulating NBA and NHL deals. The World Series champion Boston Red Sox have a casino sponsorship with MGM and various teams have smaller deals.

Manfred has acknowledged that the speed of play – slow, even as MLB attempts to accelerate it – is among the most amenable to in-play sports betting and baseball could very well become a next-generation legal sports betting winner if it properly leverages its data deal to entice new levels of engagement.

Assuaging older fans bombarded with anti-gambling rhetoric will be a key facet of the equation.

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