Less than one week after announcing what was an unprecedented partnership between a professional sports team and a sports wagering tout service, the Vegas Golden Knights announced Saturday they were ending their short-lived agreement with Mexican-based Upick Trade.
The partnership, announced Wednesday, was met largely with derision and concern throughout the social media landscape — “Gambling Twitter” and beyond. The longer both parties remained silent on whether any guardrails were in place regarding the potential of Upick Trade receiving inside team information to potentially make picks for its service involving the Golden Knights, the easier it was for the opposition and outrage to coalesce.
On Saturday afternoon, the NHL team pulled the plug, offering a terse statement that read, “The Vegas Golden Knights have ended their sponsorship agreement with UpickTrade. The organization will not have additional comments on the matter at this time.”
That decision appeared to catch Upick Trade off-guard, with a spokesman saying, “We are still in shock over the decision,” via email to Sports Handle on Saturday evening. There has been no further statement from Upick Trade as of Monday morning.
All the unanswered questions
If the Golden Knights back out of this agreement with Mexican based tout service UPick, I know some guys in Brooklyn and the Jersey City waterfront that would be more than willing to step in and enter a gambling related partnership with them. #buyamerican 😉
— Phil (@GinMillPhil) February 25, 2021
Not sure what’s more confusing: the VGK partnering with a tout service or the VGK skipping over handicappers who have lived in Vegas for 20+ years for a group in a country known for soccer and fixed baseball.
— Spread Investor (@spreadinvestor) February 25, 2021
In one respect, the entire saga came at a perfect time in terms of the team’s on-ice schedule — the Golden Knights did not have a home game in the span between the announcement and ending the agreement. It had the potential to begin as early as Monday night when Vegas hosts Minnesota, but the now-dissolved partnership will be little more than “what ifs?” that will fade as time creates distance.
Still, the announcement raised some important questions given the still-relative novelty of full-fledged sports betting in the United States outside of Sin City. And most of those questions that remain unanswered begin with “Why?”
- Why would any professional sports team enter an agreement with a tout service?
- Why would the Golden Knights enter an agreement with a foreign-based tout service when they could practically trip over multiple ones in Las Vegas?
- Was there an easier path to an agreement with Upick Trade primarily because it is a foreign-based tout?
- Why did no one in the Golden Knights organization account for the blowback — both from the general public and the media covering the industry?
- Why has the National Hockey League been completely silent on everything that has transpired to this point?
Answering the question about the Golden Knights accounting for the blowback is tricky since they were the first NHL team to pair with a sportsbook back in 2018 with William Hill. But surely someone in the organization knew it would be a notable leap from partnering with an operator which we all know exists to take our money for entertainment’s sake and doesn’t pretend otherwise, and a tout service, which most parties know exists to take our money but pretends otherwise.
The league has yet to respond to emails from Sports Handle related to any potential involvement it may have had prior to or after the agreement was announced. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told the Las Vegas Review-Journal via email that “the league and the Knights were in communication on the matter and that clubs are on their own to comply with league rules and policies.”
Then there’s the big question: Why was there no public transparency coming from the team with relation to the ethical guardrails that should have been in place between the Golden Knights and Upick Trade as part of this agreement as soon as the partnership was announced?
This should have been the first thing settled between the sides, in unambiguous terms available to the public when the deal was announced. As in: “Upick Trade will not have any access to inside team information,” and/or “Upick Trade will be allowed to offer wagering selections against the Golden Knights as part of its service.”
Is it possible either or both of those statements would have resulted in poor optics? Absolutely. But being silent in the “Information Age” is delusional by both the team and the tout service.
To think people would not at least inquire about those arrangements given how practically every tout service seeks out that kind of inside information, leverages it into helping formulate their picks, and advertises such leverage to attract bettors into signing up is either naivete or cynicism of the highest order.
And what about Upick Trade?
Question for #GamblingTwitter …
Do you think UPick was a front all along and all they wanted was the pub from the controversy that was sure to follow?
Has anyone done any REAL, on the ground, investigating into the company?
Is it even real?
— Matt Perrault (@sportstalkmatt) March 1, 2021
Though there are rarely any winners in a partnership being dissolved, Upick Trade did not have all that much at stake in the U.S. market. It was, and still is to a large extent, an unknown quantity as a picks service, its proprietary algorithm and disclosure of picks on its website notwithstanding.
One interesting part of Upick Trade CEO Carlos Lazo Reyes’ statement is his reference to “the conglomerate I lead goes beyond Upick Trade” and makes a direct reference to a certain tequila brand, complete with prideful statement about winning a silver medal in the Brussels Spirit Competition.
Is it possible Upick Trade could have served as a vehicle for Reyes and Xoy to launch the tequila into the U.S. with Las Vegas as its entry point? Of course it is — free publicity is good publicity, right? The deal may have also provided a path for it to be served at T-Mobile Arena for Golden Knights home games or becoming the team’s official spirits partner.
It is not a bait-and-switch, but this possibility again raises the question of due diligence from the Golden Knights’ perspective about the decision to pair with a foreign-based tout service over a domestic one, and the research conducted in determining Upick Trade was a potential suitable business partner.
Not a brave new world, but more a cautionary tale
So the .@GoldenKnights ended their sponsorship with UPick. Two things remain, who thought this was a good idea and would they have come to the conclusion that this wasn’t the greatest partnership had it not been for the social media outrage #NHL
— Dana Lane (@DanaLaneSports) February 27, 2021
Sports betting itself currently occupies a unique space in the American gambling landscape. It has significantly expanded ahead of the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down PASPA in May 2018, gaining popularity among states in need of expanding low-maintenance tax revenue streams to combat shortfalls from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sports betting, though, also serves — similar to what Upick Trade could have been for the tequila brand — as a vehicle to potentially expand casino gaming both retail and online.
For the relatively positive reaction sports betting has received as its reach spreads, this showed some of its fragilities. The swift backlash to the announcement also marked a willingness from its backers to help protect the industry from itself.
Mistakes and missteps are all part of the growth process, though the hope is the lesson learned from this type of agreement between team and tout is not to have one in the first place.