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How NBA sparked the American sports gambling gold rush

How NBA sparked the American sports gambling gold rush
Published On: Thu, Nov 01
Jan 8, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Brandon Rush (4) dunks against the Portland Trail Blazers during the second quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

On a Saturday afternoon in October, the race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino is packed with horse racing enthusiasts cheering on the ponies.

No one is paying attention to what's hanging on the wall, but it's a big deal, a sign of a monumental shift in the American sports landscape.

In the front-right corner of the sportsbook, above the betting windows, the iconic, official red-white-and-blue NBA logo is on display right next to the lit-up oddsboard showcasing all of the day's point spreads. It's glaring, visual evidence of the thawing relationship between two of America's favorite pastimes -- professional sports and gambling -- as well as a precursor to a high-speed, data-driven evolution that is coming next.

"A lot has changed," said Scott Butera, president of interactive gaming for MGM Resorts, which owns the Borgata. "What's really changed is the fan base and the way they're changing how they consume sports."

Some would argue that the bigger agent of change has been the evolving attitudes of the professional leagues, which have been able to quickly pivot off their long-held, staunch opposition to sports betting.

For six years, the NBA, along with the NCAA, NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL, fought New Jersey's efforts to allow sports betting. The leagues claimed they would suffer "irreparable harm" if sportsbooks opened in Atlantic City. Now, the leagues and their teams are partnering with those same sportsbooks.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal statute and opened a path for states outside of Nevada to legalize sports betting, and a race to profit off it kicked off. In the first five months since the Supreme Court ruling, the NBA, NHL and even the New York Jets have partnered with MGM Resorts, the prominent gaming company that owns properties in a half dozen states. Prudential Center, home to the New Jersey Devils, is dedicating space to multiple sports-betting-sponsored lounges, where odds will be on display and bets can be made on the sponsoring bookmaker's mobile app. This week, the Oakland Raiders signed a deal with Caesars. More team, league and venue deals are expected to follow.

The American sports betting gold rush is on -- and it all started with a discussion between a forward-thinking commissioner and the CEO of one of the largest bookmaking operations in the U.S.

NBA makes the first move

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts, approached NBA commissioner Adam Silver about a partnership. MGM already hosted the NBA's annual summer league and a new WNBA franchise, the Las Vegas Aces, so it was a natural progression. It didn't take long to put together the first partnership between a major U.S. sports league and a bookmaker.

Industry sources estimate the NBA-MGM deal to be worth at least $25 million. MGM received the exclusive rights to call itself the official gaming partner of the NBA and permission to use league and team logos. Eventually, MGM bookmakers also will get access to the NBA's official data feed, which will be used to fuel the minute-by-minute in-game wagering that is anticipated to become increasing popular in the future.

For now, the marketing portion of the partnership is most visible. ran a pick 'em contest based on the MGM odds on each team's season win total, and official logos are beginning to appear at MGM sportsbooks, something that had been prohibited in the past.

To get around any copyright restrictions, Las Vegas sportsbooks have previously avoided using "NBA" or "Super Bowl" on their odds, instead opting for ambiguous wording like "Pro Basketball" and "Pro Football Championship." The NBA says such workarounds may give fans an inauthentic, almost "bootleg" feel to the betting experience.

"Right now, our fans have seen all the press that sports betting is no longer prohibited outside of Nevada, and states are looking to legalize it," NBA vice president and head of fantasy and gaming Scott Kaufman-Ross said. "But our fans don't really know who the legal, licensed sportsbooks are. They'll see ads for [offshore sportsbooks] Bovada and MyBookie, but they don't really know who has a license in what state and who is allowed to do what. What we can do by creating an authentic experience is give the fans the type of experience with our sport that they're used to, the official experience."

Bookmakers and professional bettors are more worried about what comes next, though: the official data, and all the possibilities that come with it.

Read the complete news article here...

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