As the gambling industry has evolved in the wake of the Supreme Court striking down the federal prohibition against sports betting earlier this year, the NBA has remained at the forefront of attempting to take advantage of the new frontier into which the American sporting landscape has stumbled. The league has aggressively courted lawmakers at both the federal and state levels in the hopes of receiving an “integrity fee” for having people bet on its games.
The NBA has stated this fee would go toward additional monitoring of the sport, which it says will be necessary once gambling is legal across the country and not primarily just in Las Vegas. So far, though, attempts to impose the fee have failed to gain any traction on the government side.
At the same time, however, the league has been talking to various casinos themselves. And by striking this deal with MGM, the NBA can set a precedent that it should be compensated for having a product on which people can wager.
“It’s a bit of a shift [in strategy],” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “Our initial strategy was a consistent federal framework. There was a shift in that strategy when we saw that wasn’t going to happen with the repeal of PASPA [the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act] and no federal replacement. We were then going to be looking at a state-by-state strategy. Once we started discussions with the states, we’re realistic. We saw it was going to be an uphill battle. By the way, it’s still early days in those state-by-state discussions. At least 20 states are currently considering legislation, but only a small handful have passed bills so far.”
And that is where MGM comes in. That the league would partner with MGM is a natural fit, given MGM is the owner of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, the owner of the two largest arenas in Las Vegas, and is already a core partner with the league for its annual summer league in Sin City.
If the NBA is going to continue to do business in Las Vegas — or potentially surpass the level of business it is already doing there, which is quite substantial — it only makes sense for MGM to be part of this. In addition, MGM will have the cache to say it was the first gaming partner of the league and be able to advertise across all NBA platforms, including NBA TV, NBA.com and on the league’s official app.
The only exclusivity MGM will have in this deal will be its new designation as the official gaming partner of the NBA and WNBA. The deal does not prevent people from betting at non-MGM properties. Thus, for the regular fan who wants to go place a wager on a game, Tuesday’s announcement doesn’t mean a whole lot. Fans will still be able to go to whatever place they choose to make a bet on the NBA once it is legal, and the bets themselves won’t change.
What did change Tuesday, however, was the perception — at least in one instance — that the NBA should be compensated for providing the thing for which people want to put their money on the line.
The NBA will be hoping this is just the first of many such agreements.