Less than a month before the start of the NBA regular season, William Hill US announced on Wednesday that it has entered into a partnership with the NBA to become an authorized sports betting operator of the league.
Under the partnership, William Hill will gain the right to use NBA official betting data and league marks across its mobile platforms and sportsbooks across the U.S. William Hill is the fourth sportsbook operator to strike a betting partnership with the league, joining MGM Resorts, FanDuel, and The Stars Group.
“William Hill is a globally respected brand that has set an early standard for sports betting in the U.S. market,” said Scott Kaufman-Ross, Senior Vice President, Head of Fantasy & Gaming, NBA. “We are delighted to partner with William Hill as they grow their business throughout the U.S. and are excited to work together to provide a world-class experience to our fans.”
The partnership is a seven-figure deal, William Hill told Sports Handle. When the NBA entered into a partnership with MGM Resorts in July 2018, industry sources pegged the deal at three years for at least $25 mm, ESPN reported.
In addition, the NBA plans to promote William Hill across its digital assets including NBA.com, the NBA app, and the league’s social media platforms.
🏀 William Hill is now a Proud Partner and an Authorized Sports Betting Operator of the @NBA! 🏀
— William Hill US (@WilliamHillUS) October 2, 2019
“We are proud of this creative partnership that benefits our customers and our partners nationwide while promoting legalized wagering on NBA events. The NBA has been a leader in recognizing the benefits of a legal sports betting market,” said Dan Shapiro, Vice President of Strategy & Business Development of William Hill US. “We expect this to be the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the league and its teams.”
Reaching middle ground
Since the Supreme Court’s historic PASPA decision in May 2018, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has continually asserted that the league should receive a royalty from sportsbook operators in compensation for the league’s intellectual property rights. As intellectual property creators of one of the world’s largest professional sports leagues, the NBA will spend approximately $8 billion this year, Silver said last month in an interview with Bloomberg host David Rubenstein.
Silver does not believe that the arrangement should be tied to a sportsbook’s profits since it could create the appearance that the NBA is being incentivized for a particular outcome of a game. However, he still maintains that the league should receive some compensation from sportsbook operators.
“As a business matter, I feel like we should share in the proceeds,” Silver told Rubenstein during an appearance at The Economic Club Of Washington.
"I'm saying, 'Alright, call it a royalty.'"
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver comments on the prospect of sports betting for the NBA pic.twitter.com/VrspSmUOpI
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) September 21, 2019
William Hill is pursuing partnerships with pro sports leagues where there is a “two-way exchange of value,” Shapiro said. A partnership that is structured in such a way that it requires a sportsbook to pay a percentage of its handle for contests involving a particular league doesn’t accomplish that, he added. The two sides appeared to find middle ground.
“We found another method where we figured out how to compensate them for this value,” Shapiro told Sports Handle.
William Hill’s partnership with the NBA does not include a component that requires the company to pay a percentage of its NBA handle to the league, he explained.
Over the last 18 months, William Hill CEO Joe Asher has expressed resistance to providing compensation to the leagues in the form of a so-called integrity or royalty fee. The fees increase the cost of business for legal sportsbook operators, he argues, while augmenting the illegal, black market. Those illegal operators have no IRS reporting requirements and face few compliance expenses in most cases.
“Anything that increases the cost of doing business in the legal market, I think is bad, overall,” Asher told Sports Handle in June. “That certainly encompasses royalty fees, integrity fees or whatever you want to call them.”
Both the NBA and William Hill appear committed to working together on integrity issues surrounding legalized sports betting. As part of the deal, the two sides will collaborate on best-in-class practices to protect the integrity of NBA games. William Hill is obligated to inform regulators on suspicious betting patterns and will work with the NBA to help resolve the issues if they arise, Shapiro indicated.
At present, William Hill maintains sports betting operations in eight states including: New Jersey, Nevada, Indiana, and Rhode Island. In New Jersey, William Hill operates full-service sportsbooks at three locations: Monmouth Park in Oceanport, as well as Ocean Casino Resort and Tropicana Atlantic City. The famed Atlantic City boardwalk is located less than 65 miles from the Wells Fargo Center, the home of the Philadelphia 76ers.
William Hill already has partnerships on the club level with franchises in other sports, namely the New Jersey Devils and Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL. The partnership reached with the NBA on Wednesday enables William Hill to pursue those type of deals, Shapiro said.
“In terms of partnering with individual teams certainly there is no lack of interest on the part of the teams to do deals with William Hill,” he said. “We have been having conversations, but certainly that is a possibility with this deal in place.”
Expanded prop wagering
With the regular season mere weeks away, William Hill already offers numerous futures markets with wagers on the upcoming season. Bettors in states where William Hill maintains a presence can wager on season win totals, the league’s outright winner, as well as the NBA’s 2019-2020 Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year. One prop allows fans to bet on if the Lakers or Clippers will finish with more wins in the regular season.
In the past, Asher has questioned the popularity of exotic bets where fans can wager on certain totals such as the number of assists that Lebron James will record in a game. During an appearance at a New Orleans conference in January, Asher criticized several states for considering measures that would create mandates for books to use official league data. He cited the James’ prop to illustrate his point.
“That’s not what this is about — that’s like the fingernail on the world’s biggest man,” Asher said. “People don’t bet on how many assists LeBron James had in a game, to any material degree.”
“They are betting on whether the Lakers are going to cover the spread, or whether the Lakers are going to win the game,” he added. “That’s what people bet on.”