The NHL made a winning bet on Las Vegas as a hockey market and now the league has partnered with the gambling industry itself. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s first league-wide sports bettor partnership Monday morning with MGM Resorts, with CEO and chairman Jim Murren joining the commissioner for the press conference.
The multi-year pact is truly a big deal for the sport, which now has a partner that offers digital sports betting to the American public (betting in Canada is a different story).
Naturally, there are still questions.
For example, part of the deal involves MGM gaining access to proprietary advanced game data from the NHL. This will no doubt help with oddsmaking, but more specifically it really helps for in-game betting.
As tracking data becomes more sophisticated, expect more questions to be asked from the players, however. The idea of biometric tracking was already on the minds of the athletes and the NHL Players’ Association this summer and the idea of game data being shared with a league partner will surely come with questions. While the biometric data is more contentious (does the league have a right to what a player’s body does, or must the player consent and be compensated for that information?), the question involving rights must be answered, too. I can certainly see data becoming an even bigger sticking point in contract negotiations as the techniques for crunching said numbers become both more sophisticated and better understood by the mainstream.
Long-term, the revenue streams from these partnerships – the MGM deal is not exclusive, so others in the betting world could join in later – will be interesting to track. It very well could be a boon for the salary cap, which both owners and players would be happy with.
The other obvious question that seems to have been answered already involves the reporting of injuries. With the NFL, a league that has gained a lot of its popularity because of gambling, player injuries are transparent – if a quarterback breaks his ankle, it is public knowledge that he is out with a broken ankle. Hockey, as you may have noticed, has become as obfuscating as possible in recent years, with “upper-body” and “lower-body” terms – not to mention “day-to-day” or “week-to-week” timelines – laughably used to describe maladies in the most unhelpful way possible (some teams are improving here, to be fair). Bettman has already noted that the NHL does not plan on going to NFL-style transparency, so that’s a bit of a disappointment.
The big issue, of course, is one of integrity. The legality of sports betting in North America has blossomed in recent years, either by government-run books (like Pro-Line in Canada) or by Supreme Court decision in the United States and that has helped convince Bettman that the atmosphere around the vice has changed enough for hockey to join in. Yes, there have been gambling scandals in the past, such as those that ensnared Rick Tocchet and Thomas Vanek, but both cases involved illegal gambling – not the throwing of games or point-shaving. But integrity is there until it isn’t – I’m not naive, here. For the NHL to enter this partnership, Bettman must be pretty sure of the outcome. This is not a commissioner who bets on long shots.