The NBA, MLB and now the PGA Tour have engaged in a sprint since January, lobbying for sports betting legislation favorable to their collective financial interests. This multi-pronged effort in states eyeing legal sports betting has involved over 30 registered lobbyists in at least 16 states. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred have also gotten involved in the messaging effort, with Manfred appearing on West Virginia airwaves to make his case for the leagues’ entitlement to a direct cut of all sports wagers, pending a change in federal law (i.e. the repeal of PASPA).
Adam Silver has not gotten as close to the discussion at the state level (at least not publicly), though twice now since the start of the 2018 he has addressed the prospect of expanded sports wagering in the U.S. Both times Silver has cut the legs out of key NBA and MLB arguments.
First, Silver leveled the so-called “betting right and integrity fee” (admitting it was a royalty) argument and this week, he weakened the argument for why the leagues should be the sole, exclusive provider of data to sportsbooks nationwide. Or in other words, why the leagues or its third parties should be the only entities permitted — by statute — to sell (public domain) data to sportsbooks. The chief rationale on that point has been premised on the threat of in-play wagering, or proposition wagers on discrete plays.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Weighs In On Legal Sports Betting, Trumpets Type of Wagering That Leagues Have Highlighted As Greatest Risk to Games
At the various recent state legislature hearings, the NBA and MLB have jointly argued that the emergence of in-play wagering poses the greatest threat to their games. They have made this case in New York, West Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas, Missouri and elsewhere.
Now here’s Silver, as reported by SportTechie’s Joe Lemire on April 4:
In response to a follow-up question about [legalized sports betting], Silver said, “In Europe, for example, where sports betting is legal, people can watch streams of games and then bet as they’re watching them. That could conceivably be another form of a microtransaction, and much of the sports betting has moved to in-play, which is one of the reasons why people want to watch the live feeds.
Silver gave a couple hypothetical examples of in-play betting — that instead of simply betting on standard categories like win or loss, point spread and over/under, a fan could wager on the number of points a particular player will score in the next quarter or even if a shooter will make the next two free throws. “Those are all potential, additional forms of engagement for viewers,” Silver said.
That’s a full-throated endorsement for the appeal, profitability (the league may soon sell small segments of live action as “microtransactions”), and recognition of engagement that in-play wagering would drive. Certainly Silver might also be concerned about preserving the game’s integrity in connection with in-play wagering, but if it’s truly such a worry, would he be praising it in these terms?
Now compare Silver’s enthusiasm with the dark cloud painted by MLB’s Senior Vice President of League Economics and Operation, Morgan Sword, before a Connecticut hearing on a sports betting bill on April 4. From Sword’s written testimony:
And here’s more:
Setting aside the fact that Sword’s argument about uniformity, fairness and accuracy is completely without substantiation, the leagues, by virtue of Silver’s comments, are arguing in-play wagering is fine and dandy and great for engagement, but also the single greatest risk to the integrity of their games, with “innumerable” possibilities for real or perceived manipulation.
In-play wagering would erode public trust! But hey, great for engagement.
Why are they speaking out of both sides? For profit, naturally. To have lawmakers grant the league a data sales monopoly. The leagues have so far convinced lawmakers in New York, Kansas and Connecticut to draft bills with “tiers” of wagers that would grant leagues such a monopoly on any information that doesn’t depend on a final score.
Here’s more from the NBA’s third-party provider of real-time stats, data and audio-visual game feeds, Sportradar U.S. deputy president Laila Mintas:
We believe that there will be an array of sports betting products offered to a legal and regulated US market, which would include a multitude of player propositions and betting on specific outcomes (such as the amount of strikes for the next at-bat or total rushing yards on the next drive), in addition, this could also be extended to be offered in real time during an NBA game or any game.
In sum, the leagues wholeheartedly support, sponsor and want to sell data and short live feeds catering to in-play bettors, while simultaneously pointing to in-play betting as the big bad wolf, which only the leagues can prevent from devouring public trust in their games.