The NHL is getting involved in the sports gambling industry, with commissioner Gary Bettman announcing a multi-year partnership Monday with MGM Resorts International, an American global hospitality and entertainment company.
The NHL, which won’t receive a cut of gambling profits, is following the NBA’s lead by providing the company with data for use in sports betting.
“The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our league,” Bettman said at Monday’s news conference in New York. “Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do.”
Added MGM chair and CEO Jim Murren: “Fan engagement, sports alignment is one of the pillars of this relationship.”
The Las Vegas-based casino giant is the league’s first official sports betting partner. As part of the agreement, MGM gains access to proprietary NHL data that could eventually include puck and player tracking information.
‘Creative and unique things’ expected
Earlier this year, bookmaker William Hill reached agreements that allow odds and other promotional efforts at the home arenas of the Las Vegas Golden Knights and the New Jersey Devils.
NHL executive vice-president and chief revenue officer Keith Wachtel said being able to provide enhanced data and analytics to MGM will allow “some creative and unique things that don’t really exist in the sport right now.”
“The more data and analytics that a gaming operator can have, the better it will be in enabling them to set odds,” Wachtel told The Associated Press. “Whether or not they’re using the data for actual purposes of creating prop bets and things like that certainly is something [that’s possible]. But more importantly, they’re going to use it to be able to set odds and proper odds that they’re going to be able to create.”
The casino giant has made a series of significant moves, including a multi-year deal announced in July with the NBA and WNBA — the first major U.S. sports leagues to strike an arrangement with a gambling company.
Some leagues, including the Major League Baseball and the NBA, had called for an “integrity fee” — essentially, states would give leagues a cut of the money wagered on their games to pay for expanded monitoring of suspicious betting and to protect their intellectual property. The effort has been largely unsuccessful thus far.
Puck and play tracking data
“We have no concerns about the integrity of our game, of our players, our officials,” Wachtel said. “We’ve never had an issue. Secondly, the integrity of the sports betting landscape is just as important to the bookmakers, which is why the NHL does not have a discussion and we don’t talk about this notion of integrity fees.”
Scott Butera, MGM Resorts’ president of interactive gaming and a former Arena Football League commissioner, outlined how the puck and playing tracking data will help bettors.
“If I know one player is faster than the other, if I know one expends less energy than the other, if I know one has a faster slap shot than the other, it gives me information that I can bet,” he said. “If I’m betting on who will score the most goals, I have that tool. Ultimately when enough data is collected on that, we’ll be able to actually bet on that data itself. So you could have a bet on which player’s going to have the highest average slapshot throughout the game.”
Butera said MGM believes expanded sports betting will eventually be available in 25 to 30 states. The 24 U.S.-based NHL teams play in 18 different states, with seven more in Canada. The league is moving toward adding a 32nd team, in Seattle and what would be its 19th state [Washington].
Caps owner eager to embrace sports betting
According to a Nielsen sports study, the NHL would see a financial windfall from legal sports betting of as much as $216 million US annually due to widely available, legal and regulated sports betting.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law making sports gambling illegal in many states, allowing the NHL to move forward.
At the time, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis called the decision “a great one for sports fans” and added he was eager to embrace the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. He said legalized betting would protect the integrity of sports against potential corruption and pave the way to implement safeguards against fraud.
All four major professional sports leagues in the U.S., the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law. In court, the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball had argued that New Jersey’s gambling expansion would hurt the integrity of their games.
Canadian sports gambling market ‘enormous’
It’s estimated hundreds of billions of dollars are bet on sports every year by American gamblers — the vast majority of it illegally. Now, with the sports gambling landscape set to change drastically over the next few years, leagues, owners and players all want a slice of this lucrative pie.
“I think everyone who owns a top-four professional sports team just basically saw the value of their team double,” Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, told CNBC earlier this year.
The sports gambling market in Canada is enormous. Paul Burns, vice president of the Canadian Gaming Association, estimates Canadians wager around $10 billion illegally every year on sports, with much of the money flowing to offshore online sports books.
Legalized grey area
“In contrast,” he told CBC Sports earlier this year, “they spend about $500 million on provincial sports lottery games” such as Ontario’s Pro-Line.
In the roughly two decades since the advent of internet gambling sites, Canadians authorities have largely ignored this multi-billion-dollar phenomenon, allowing online sports betting to exist in a kind of legal grey area where both bookmakers and bettors are more or less free to operate.
“There have been no prosecutions that resulted in convictions or guilty pleas, so the offshore sports books look at Canada as a grey zone,” says lawyer Michael Lipton, a gaming law expert with Dickinson Wright in Toronto.
Why has the Canadian government chosen to mostly turn a blind eye to internet betting? Gambling has traditionally been the responsibility of the provinces, which have overseen lotteries and brick-and-mortar casinos within their borders. Most of the hundreds of websites offering casino and sports betting to Canadians exist in exotic international locales far beyond the provinces’ jurisdictions. And the federal criminal code offers little guidance when it comes to internet gambling.
“The criminal code was written decades ago, and these provisions with respect to gaming were drafted in the 1960s and haven’t really been updated since,” says lawyer Chad Finkelstein, a gaming law expert who has advised casino operators. “These provisions were not drafted with anything remotely resembling the internet ever contemplated. So we have outdated, antiquated provisions, which makes it difficult to apply to a modern gaming business.”