NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL React to Sports Betting Legalization

Professional sports leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL have all fought against sports betting legalization at some point in the last decade. They claimed that the legitimacy of their respective sports would be tainted if sports betting was broadly legalized in the United States. All of those leagues have seemingly changed their tune following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Sports Betting Law PAPSA in May 2018. 

The number of states with legal sports betting is growing (check the status of your state here), and these major sports institutions have embraced this development – some more than others. An added revenue stream certainly sweetens the pot enough to cause evolving opinions on the sports betting front. Either way, here’s how these leagues have reacted to sports betting legalization: 

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National Basketball Association (NBA): The NBA made the first move by dubbing MGM Resorts International as their official gaming provider in July 2018. Former commissioner David Stern was opposed to sports betting throughout his tenure, but Adam Silver announced himself as a proponent shortly after taking the handle from Stern in 2014. Silver got his chance to put those opinions into action, ultimately serving as a trendsetter for the other leagues.  

National Hockey League (NHL): The NHL was next to take the leap, following the NBA’s footsteps while striking a deal with MGM Resorts in October 2018. This didn’t come as much of a surprise, as the NHL already had standing relationships with a franchise in Las Vegas. MGM serves as part-owner of T-Mobile Arena, which is where the Vegas Golden Knights play their home games. In short, this agreement makes plenty of sense for both parties. 

Major League Baseball (MLB): Nearly a month after the NHL’s announcement, MLB struck a similar deal with MGM Resorts in November 2018. The dominos were clearly falling at this point, and MGM Resorts pulled off the hat trick with NBA, NHL, and MLB partnerships. MLB’s move was surprising to a certain degree, as Major League Baseball has a gloomy history with sports betting. That ultimately brought about a zero-tolerance policy on gambling related activities: just ask Pete Rose … Eventually, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged the upside in fan engagement along with the ability to responsibly interact with sports betting providers.  

National Football League (NFL): The NFL moved slower than the three aforementioned leagues, but they still managed to ink a deal with Caesars Entertainment in January 2019. Similar to Major League Baseball, the NFL was perceived to have a low tolerance for sports betting in previous decades. The partnership only ties to Caesars’ casinos (not sportsbooks), but it represents the NFL’s potential attitude shift with respect to sports betting. On top of this, numerous teams have individual affiliations with Caesars Entertainment as well. The 2020 NFL Draft will be held in Las Vegas, and the Raiders will move there in fall of that year. All in all, it’s safe to say that the NFL is warming up to the idea of legal sports betting. 

National College Athletic Association (NCAA): It’s no secret that the NCAA vehemently opposes sports betting. On top of their “Don’t Bet on It” educational campaign, NCAA President Mark Emmert maintains that sports wagering is a “threat to the integrity of college sports”, as stated at the NCAA’s annual convention in January 2019. The organization remains firm in their stance against sports betting, and that doesn’t appear to change any time soon. However, the NCAA removed their ban of events in sports betting states. The long-standing policy didn’t allow any NCAA championships to take place in the same state where sports gambling was legal. With legalization growing, the NCAA chose to lift that restriction. That doesn’t necessarily reflect a shift in outlook when it comes to sports betting, but it acknowledges that the NCAA is at least willing to compromise with the expanding industry.  

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