As the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations prepares to host a hearing on Thursday titled “Post-PASPA: An Examination of Sports Betting in America,” a question comes to mind: As key sports betting stakeholders, including the American Gaming Association, individual states and lawmakers, casino operators and others push back against a “federal framework” for sports wagering, while the NFL and several other pro leagues lobby in favor, do the two sides have anything in common?
It appears they do.
And, according to AGA senior vice president of public affairs Sara Slane, the two sides have more in common than you might think. In fact, Slane thinks the professional leagues, the NFL in particular, and her group are “90 percent aligned.”
What Do NFL, AGA Have in Common Regarding Sports Betting? Protection of Consumer Rights and a Desire to Protect the Integrity of the Game.
When the NFL called for a unified framework for sports betting regulation in May, it laid out its “core principles” for sports betting. This week it reiterated these components in written testimony ahead of the hearing (note that the NFL isn’t pushing for a so-called “integrity fee,” unlike Major League Baseball, the NBA and PGA Tour):
- Consumer protections;
- Fans get access to “official league data”;
- Sports leagues can protect intellectual property and content; and
- Resources, monitoring tools and enforcement tools will be available to protect the integrity of the game.
The AGA, a gaming industry association and lobbying group, certainly shares the goals of consumer protections and protecting the integrity of the game. Those are the two issues of paramount importance to just about everyone in order to create a safe, legal sports betting environment.
“I think we’re both committed to integrity — the NFL to the integrity of the game and us to the integrity of the bet,” Slane said. “And we’re committed to protecting consumers, so on those points, I think we’re absolutely aligned.”
So that leaves what the NFL refers to as the protection of intellectual property and the mandated use of league-produced statistical data to grade sportsbook wagers. That’s where things get thorny.
The Matter of Data Is Complicated and Contentious.
As for protection of intellectual property, there’s already trademark and copyright laws on the books for the leagues to enforce its marks and video rights on social media and beyond. The league is not shy to send cease and desist letters or file complaints.
Then on the data front, there’s settled case law where courts have determined that statistical data is unprotectable, public domain information. So the NFL is turning to lawmakers to help line their pockets based on the proposition that only by having legal sportsbooks use “official data” can athletic contests remain safe.
While the AGA is certainly in favor of operators using reliable, legitimate data to determine the outcome of wagers (which already exists in the market), it vehemently opposes federal or state governments mandating that licensed operators purchase data packages from leagues.
“One distinction is that they (NFL) would like to see a statutory requirement that official data be purchased,” Slane said. “We think that should be left to private contracts.”
It appears that the NFL’s most well-known owner may think private contracts are the way to go, too. Earlier this month, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announced a partnership with Oklahoma-based Winstar World Casino. The Chickasaw-owned casino will sponsor the Cowboys in exchange for the right to use official team logos at its properties.
The partnership is the first of its kind and clearly shows that Jones is willing to broker his own deals, whether that be in exchange for a Cowboys banner in the middle of an Oklahoma casino or, down the road, for the sale of his team’s data.
Overall the NFL has recently softened its stance on sports betting and gambling. After years of railing against placing a team in Las Vegas, the owners voted last year to let the Oakland Raiders relocate, which they will do in either 2019 or 2020. And they won’t be the first team in Las Vegas — the NHL beat the most powerful pro sports league in the country to the punch on that one when the Vegas Golden Knights started play in a state-of-the-art facility right on the Vegas Strip last season.
Cowboys, Golden Knights Already Have Deals With Gaming Stakeholders. Maybe a One-Size-Fits-All Agreement Isn’t Best.
Shortly after the Cowboys announced their partnership with Winstar, the Golden Knights followed suit, but took it one step further — they’re partnering with William Hill, a British-based bookmaker with its U.S. offices in Las Vegas. William Hill currently runs sportsbooks in multiple states and through its partnership with the Golden Knights, will have its NHL odds shown on the T-Mobile Arena scoreboard between periods. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch from there for the NHL as a whole to make a deal with William Hill to buy their data in a non-exclusive deal, as MGM has done with the NBA.
When it comes right down to it, the professional sports leagues are run by businessmen. Wildly successful businessmen. See Jones, Robert Kraft, Paul Allen, Shahid Kahn, Stan Kroenke, Stephen Ross, Ted Leonsis, John Henry, Mark Cuban and Terry Pegula, as examples. While the NFL lobbies for a unified structure to govern data contracts and beyond, each of these mavericks is likely to score the best deal he can individually, whether it’s trading logo use for money, selling individual player data to quants, or whatever else they might dream up.
What kind of biz opp is there for the NFL in legalized sports gambling is up for debate. Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt told me he believes it’ll be in growing the game in new frontiers like China. Another exec said he thinks it’s how Roger Goodell can get to $25 billion in revenue.
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2018
So while the AGA and NFL offer testimony at tomorrow’s hearing, it may sound like they are on wholly opposing sides. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that while the NFL and casino operators appear to be odds, the truth is, guys who have already made billions relish the art of the deal. As time wears on, it appears some will find that those deals may be best made without the handcuffs of a universal federal framework.