In the brave new world of legalized sports gambling, professional teams and leagues are seeing many new opportunities in which to capitalize. It has already begun at the league level, too, as the NHL and NBA have each partnered up with MGM Resorts International. At the team level, Caesars Entertainment recently partnered with two franchises. The New Jersey Devils of the NHL and the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA are both on board with Caesars in deals announced in recent months and it hasn’t stopped there. The Devils also teamed up with William Hill, which has a deal with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights in the works. Caesars previously reached an agreement with the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys partnered with WinStar World Casino. Earlier this week, even more deals have been made as the New York Jets are going to team up with both 888 Holdings as well as MGM.
Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, sees the logic behind franchises and leagues trying to maximize their profits. Whyte is quick to say he is not anti-gambling, however, responsibility is key and the partnership of the Jets and 888 is patient zero. The Jets have wasted no time and added the 888 colors to MetLife Stadium. Several oversized banners feature the 888.com website, as the Jets and their newest sponsor take advantage of an opportunity afforded by NFL team owners. Those owners made the decision back in August to allow teams to partner with casinos, an obvious result of the end of the federal prohibition on sports betting.
While advertising is still not allowed, we are seeing it in questionable spots. The Jets’ new partnership has stirred critics, who said that the 888.com ads looked dangerously close to flouting the rules because when using the 888 website it features links to an online casino, online poker rooms, as well as online sports betting. Whyte had something to say about it.
“There are a lot of kids who go to games and this kind of marketing may have a big impact on them. They will become much more inclined to see gambling as being part of the game.”
While the Jets do not specifically advertise 888 sports betting, Whyte says the implication is certainly there; adding another partnership certainly doesn’t help the franchise’s case, either.
In a press release last Wednesday, MGM proudly announced “a first-of-its-kind partnership making MGM Resorts the official gaming partner of the New York Jets.” The press release stated:
“The multi-year agreement marks the most comprehensive and integrated gaming partnership in the National Football League (NFL) to date, promoting the global entertainment company’s best in class casino resorts as well as Play MGM’s online gaming platforms and mobile apps to millions of fans.”
This deal draws attention because it allows Jets fans to access a mobile play-along predictive game. The game, “I Called It,” includes pre-play options, in-play features, prizes, and leaderboards available during games and is available via the Jets’ official mobile app. While it is free to play, the game looks like a sports betting product.
Obviously, the NCPG foresaw teams and leagues reaching agreements after the US Supreme Court overturned the PASPA. “We weren’t surprised,” Whyte said. “We know there’s an enormous market there that everybody’s eager to capitalize on.” The NCPG advocates for responsibility and for gambling and for the handling of gambling sponsorships. Whyte said:
“We recognize that there’s going to be a lot of advertising. Even New Jersey has some responsible regulation to have a help line number on the bottom of those ads, from how I understand it. But that’s kind of a static response to gambling. We would say to the team and the operator, ‘Don’t kill the golden goose.’ If you look at the (United Kingdom) and Italy, which just banned advertising for sports betting … Being upfront and being a leader on responsible gambling helps you preserve and sustain this potentially massive revenue stream.”
Whyte also noted that the NCPG takes “a balanced approach.” The association remains concerned about the influence of increased expansion and advertising of gambling on “vulnerable populations.” At the same time, though, the leagues and teams have an opportunity to “take a leading role on preventing harm and get a lot of great publicity.” One thing the NCPG wants to see is the professional leagues and franchises take some responsibility. They have far-reaching and highly influential platforms. With legalized sports betting, Whyte said, “they could find new and innovative ways to promote responsible gambling.”
Whyte feels the Jets and 888 did not go far enough to promote responsible gambling. Rather, he believes the partners did the minimum necessary and hoped it was enough. In and of itself, he added, increased advertising and accessibility resemble potential risks.