The National Hockey League announced a deal on Monday that made MGM Resorts its "official sports wagering partner."
What does this mean for the league, for hockey in the U.S. and for the players? Here's an FAQ:
Why did commissioner Gary Bettman change his stance on gambling and the NHL?
"The Supreme Court," Bettman said to chuckles at his news conference at NHL headquarters in New York.
In May, the Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 was unconstitutional, allowing states to legalize sports wagering. The NHL, as it stands, has teams in two states that have legalized it (Nevada, New Jersey) with many more in other jurisdictions expected to follow, including Pennsylvania. While Bettman has been outspoken in the past about gambling and the NHL -- calling it "inconsistent" with the league's image and atmosphere -- he said the time had come to embrace it as "vehicle for more fan engagement" for the NHL. "The world has changed. The way people consume sports has changed. Whatever views anybody had a year ago have changed," he said. Simply put, the NHL wasn't going to be a dam trying to hold back a tidal wave.
The other issue is that Bettman has long felt that the NHL deserves some compensation from sportsbooks that make money from hockey wagering. "If you run a business on our intellectual property ... we're entitled to be involved in that," Bettman said in May. This MGM deal appears to satisfy that need, at least when it comes to its sportsbook.
Will the NHL get a piece of the take?
No. "We're not getting a piece of the book," said Bettman, saying that this deal is a licensing and branding one rather than the NHL getting a percentage of the volume of betting.
How much is actually wagered on the NHL?
The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas says hockey accounts for 6 percent of its annual handle. But overall, this is difficult to quantify, since hockey is typically listed in the "other" category of wagers when sportsbooks report their handles. In Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, the "other" was $214 million during last regular season, which was a 36 percent increase from $157 million from that previous time period. The arrival of the Vegas Golden Knights in the market in Oct. 2017 likely helped that increase, but the "other" category covers all sports other than professional and amateur football, baseball and basketball.
Did the Golden Knights' success make this happen?
The miraculous first season of the NHL franchise did a great many things to alter perceptions about hockey betting, but both MGM and Bettman said that Vegas's success on the ice and in the market wasn't the reason this deal was struck. If anything, the NHL and MGM grew closer in the past two years because the latter helped build T-Mobile Arena and is a big sponsor of the Golden Knights. The Bellagio, an MGM property, was also the official hotel for the league during the postseason. Both talked about the "trust" they established in working together, but this deal was likely more influenced by the NBA's agreement with MGM than anything else.
How does this deal differ than the one the NBA has with MGM?
MGM said it was involved in talks with the NHL "from the beginning," but first forged an agreement with the NBA in August 2018. That deal allowed its casinos and betting services to use league and team logos on odds boards at sportsbooks, which hadn't been the case previously. Both the NBA and the NHL have non-exclusive deals with MGM that allow them to license trademarks, logos and, most importantly, official game and player data to other sportsbooks. For the NBA, the only exclusivity was in MGM being their "official gaming partner" for the NBA and WNBA. "MGM believes in a free market," MGM Resorts Chairman & CEO Jim Murren said.
One potential difference, we imagine, is in the financial details. Industry sources told ESPN that the NBA deal was for three years and "at least $25 million." The NHL said it has a multiyear deal with MGM, but the financial terms can't be expected to be in that stratosphere.
Is MGM paying these leagues an "integrity fee?"
Since the moment it appeared that sports wagering was going to be legalized, professional leagues have been angling to profit from the betting themselves. At first, they wanted state legislatures to mandate that sportsbooks fund the mechanisms that these leagues use to maintain the "integrity" of their products in light of legal sports wagering (i.e. paying "integrity fees"). That went nowhere. So the leagues recalibrated began asking sportsbooks to pay for the "integrity" of the data, which is essentially what MGM has done here, along with acquiring the use of NHL trademarks. "We found it easiest to work directly with the industry," Bettman said. This is especially the case when it comes to advanced stats collected through player tracking.
Whoa, player tracking? Is this long-gestating NHL experiment finally going to become part of the league and its wagering?
It would appear that way. The deal with MGM gives the sportsbook "access to previously unseen enhanced NHL proprietary game data that will be generated by the league's state of the art tracking systems currently under development" that will "unlock new and innovative interactive fan engagement and betting opportunities for its U.S. customers wherever legally available."
The NHL has dabbled in different player tracking methods since the 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus. That method -- using infrared sensors on the players and the puck -- proved too costly to implement, so the NHL has been testing camera-based technology. Bettman said that tech will be tested at different events this season, with an eye towards debuting it leaguewide for the 2019-2020 season. This data could open up previously unforeseen ways to wager on the NHL, including in real time during games.
What kind of wagering can come from player tracking?
The opportunities for in-game, real-time betting on NHL games opens up an incredible amount of wagering opportunities for a sport that has too few of them for the casual bettor: Everything from betting on power-play success to wagering on overtime. But the potential from player tracking is more mysterious: Will it result in prop bets, or just data to inform what to wager on? Keep this in mind from NBA commissioner Adam Silver: "It's unclear how that data might be used in some sort of proposition bet or some in-play bet. And I think that's something we have to work out." So does the NHL.
How will this revenue affect the players and the salary cap?
In the NHL, the salary cap is linked with revenue rising. "It is revenue that's part of hockey-related revenue, and so it will be shared 50/50 with our players," Bettman said. How much revenue could it generate? The NHL's annual revenue "may increase" by $216 million due to legalized sports wagering, according to a Nielsen Sports study commissioned by the American Gaming Association. That includes an estimated $65 million in revenue from sportsbooks' advertising with the NHL. Keep in mind the owners and players can open up talks on the expiring collective bargaining agreement as early as 2020.
What does this deal mean for in-arena wagering?
When the Vegas Golden Knights entered the NHL, Bettman was clear that he didn't want wagering kiosks in the arena. Now that sports wagering is legal around the U.S., Bettman hasn't wavered on that, but with a different response: There's no need for betting kiosks at NHL games because fans are going to use their mobile devices to do so. "You don't need them because of the mobile apps," Bettman said. Instead, expect something like what the New Jersey Devils have created with William Hill at Prudential Center: a lounge area that has many of the aspects of a sportsbook, including current odds, but where fans wager on their phones.
Will the NHL change the way it reports injuries because of this deal, or legal sports wagering?
It's been widely expected that the NHL would change its injury disclosure, aligning it more with the NFL's candor and away from vague declarations like "upper body injury." But Bettman said that's not currently the plan. "I don't know about that. Our players tend to play hurt. I don't know that we have any interest in changing our reports because of the well-being of our players. We don't want them targeted. And we don't want them playing too injured," he said.
What does this mean for Canada?
This is a U.S. deal. Currently in Canada, there's legal sports wagering through the lotteries, but only on multigame parlays and not single-game betting. Bettman said that Canadian franchises are working with the government to make the shift.
Is this a good thing for the NHL?
Yes. There's no question that one of the challenges for hockey in the U.S. has been a lack of interest from casual fans that watch sports because they've wagered on them: Think about the NFL, college football and March Madness, for example. Any avenues the NHL opens that increase the likelihood of someone wagering on hockey can only increase interest in the league.
Bettman and the NHL know there's a limited amount of money currently wagered on hockey, so this deal is as much a marketing one as it is a betting one. "The amount of revenue we generate is secondary to fan engagement," said Bettman. Having MGM Resorts -- and the 31 million people enrolled in their MLife program -- as a marketing partner to that end is also a benefit. Bettman said they're merging that database with the NHL's for duel sponsorship opportunities.
Does this incentivize the NHL to look at rules changes that encourage more scoring?
Potentially. It's no secret that for U.S. fans, more scoring means more opportunities for wagering. But hockey is hockey, and nothing short of something revolutionary--- like going 4-on-4 for a full 60 minutes of regulation hockey -- will create that much of a difference in scoring. Hey, just be happy that goal scoring is up for four straight seasons, and is currently at 3.09 goals per game per team in 2018-19.
Additional reporting by David Purdum.