NFL, NBA and MLB come around to sports betting after realizing it could be a cash cow

NEW ORLEANS – As more than 70,000 people gear up to pack Atlanta’s Mercedes Benz Stadium for the National Football League’s Super Bowl LIII, it’s almost a sure bet that fans around the country will wager cash on the annual spectacle.

In fact, millions of people in nine states will be able to legally wager bets on games offered by the United States’ four major sports leagues: the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League.

It’s a first since the United States Supreme Court’s decision last year that made way for states outside of Nevada to legalize sports betting. Since then, eight states have passed legislation legalizing sports betting, with bills expected to be introduced in another 20 states this year alone.

The four major leagues opposed the idea and fought it in court but fell short. Now all four seem to be accepting the law of the land and, cautiously, embracing it.

Dave Rebuck, director of New Jersey’s Division of Gaming and Enforcement and one of the speakers at this year’s annual National Council of Legislators from Gaming States' winter meeting, believes sports leagues have started to see the cash value in legalized sports betting.

“The benefits for the sponsorship deals, the advertising deals, the marketing that is available to them by generating more fan interest in the games during the regular seasons and postseason will drive their financial gain through commercial transactions in the future for advertising [and] television cable systems,” Rebuck said.

The four major leagues could possibly cash in big-time now that sports wagers have expanded outside of the west. According to a Nielsen Sports study commissioned by the American Gaming Association, the four major leagues could bring in a combined $4.23 billion per year in new revenue through advertising, merchandising and sponsorship deals.

The wealthiest of the four majors — the NFL — stands to gain the most with a projected $2.3 billion in new revenue, according to the study. The MLB is right behind it with a projected $1.1 billion in new revenue. The NBA and NHL could rack in $585 million and $216 million respectively.

All four have already entered into sponsorship deals with casinos. The NHL, NBA and MLB are all forging gaming partnerships with MGM Resorts International. Meanwhile, the NFL announced earlier this year that it has selected Caesars Entertainment as it’s first-ever official gaming partner. However, the NFL said the partnership with Caesars would not include a sports-betting component.

The MLB told Fox News it believes sports betting is here to stay – so its main focus is to make sure laws and regulations are in place to protect the integrity of its game. That also includes charging gaming entities integrity fees or royalties on the total amount wagered on its product.

“Businesses are going to make hundreds of millions of dollars off betting on sport,” said MLB Senior Vice President and Deputy General Council Bryan Seeley. “We think it’s fair that we receive a small portion.”

The MLB is advocating for .25 percent of the amount wagered on its games, which could result in a handsome sum being turned over to the league. The NBA has publicly advocated for the same.

Seeley said a portion of the funds would go toward making sure its players and umpires are educated and monitoring betting activity so it doesn’t affect the outcome of games, especially in the minor league, where the players aren’t compensated nearly as well as its players in the major league.

“If we have a scandal that could cost us a lot of money. A lot fans and really do permanent damage to us. We bear a lot more risks than the casinos do.” he said.

So far, states have not enacted legislation that includes integrity fees for sports leagues. However, federal legislation proposed by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Sen. Warren Hatch, R-Utah, requires the U.S. Justice Department to set minimum standards for states that do legalize sports betting. It also requires casinos to use official league data but falls short of imposing fees on gaming entities.

Ohio State Sen. William Cooley, a Republican, believes there’s room at the table for all parties that have an interest in sports betting. But, he added, integrity is key.

“If we don’t make sure we have consumer protections –anti-money laundering, match fixing, problem gaming and taxation policy — if we don’t get those things addressed, pro sports is going to look like professional wrestling,” Cooley told Fox. “It’ll be entertaining but you’ll always believe the ultimate outcome is being determined by someone else other than the athletes.”