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MGM Makes NBA Forget Its “Integrity Concerns”

MGM Makes NBA Forget Its “Integrity Concerns”

The NBA is a curious entity in the annals of sports betting in the US. As the most outspoken league re the “danger” of sports wagering in the run-up to the 1992 creation of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the NBA was long the torch-bearer of the fear-mongering “sports betting will ruin the integrity of the game” set. With a new commissioner, however, the NBA’s Stern stance on sports betting evolved into a Silver lining, as the new commish became the face of the major US leagues in supporting the overturn of his forebear’s pet legislation.

Of course, at the same time, much of the NBA’s intellectual double-speak – or cognitive dissonance – has been put to the forefront, with Adam Silver pounding the hammer of necessary “integrity fees” as the NBPA doubled down on the outdated and empirically false narrative that sports betting will harm players, their pocketbooks, and their privacy.

Well, it seems like the pocketbook trumps players and privacy (for now), because the NBA just inked a deal with MGM, making the latter the official sports betting and casino gaming sponsor of the league itself. How this jibes with all the disparate nonsense coming out of both sides of the NBA’s mouth is equal parts confusing and amusing, but the old adage proves that money talks and (insert NBA “walks” gag here).

At any rate, here’s the upshot today: For a three-year, $25 million deal, MGM Resorts International is now the standard-bearer for the sponsorship model that should help assuage the (not) very real concerns about integrity that the NBA has been screaming its head off about for the last year. And the requisite business model is so simple, even a professional athlete can understand it: Just throw money at the problem, and the problem goes away. (Of course, for that to work, the problem must not actually be a real problem in the first place.)

The fine print of the new, groundbreaking agreement is pretty basic, at least insofar as those details have been made available to the public. For about $8.3 million a year (roughly equivalent to Markelle Fultz’ or Shaun Livingston’s salaries), MGM gets exclusive rights to use NBA and WNBA team logos, team names, video highlights, and the leagues’ statistical data feeds for their consumer-facing sportsbook product and any advertising thereof. The deal also allows MGM to use branded NBA and WNBA team content in its sports betting app venture, which – in partnership with online bookmaker GVC Holdings – is a $100 million platform currently under development.

This mobile betting portal, which will be available via computer and mobile Internet browsers and official iPhone, iPad, and Android apps, will let MGM and GVC casino clients access sports betting options conveniently and quickly, likely mimicking the mobile options available at existing offshore sportsbooks (Bovada, BetOnline, SportsBetting, etc.), albeit with more flash and panache. Whether or not MGM’s deal with the NBA extends to isolated GVC properties remains to be seen, but given that they’re going to run the same portal in a joint effort, this isn’t out of the question.

While this move is unsurprising, it seems to be a clear indication that the bellowing for “integrity fees” and similar posturing by US sports leagues is a false flag. There is no conflict of interest between legalized sports betting and the sports leagues themselves, and the NBA’s willingness to partner with a major casino chain for a comparative pittance speaks to that. It also weakens the NBA’s appeal to the government for any “integrity”-based profit sharing, as it proves that leagues can work deals to their benefit without governmental interference.

While it’s no secret that the various US leagues want a significant cut of legal sports betting revenue (from .25% to 1% of the handle), this deal should obviate the need for a law mandating that outlandish request.

However, even though the NBA and MGM have partnered up for the time being, don’t expect this to end the whole “integrity” debate re legal US sports betting. If anything, this is a trial run, and it’s a model you can expect other leagues to follow in the short-term. Right now, MGM is the clear winner in this particular transaction, just based on the marketing opportunities alone. As such, if nothing else (integrity fees notwithstanding), expect the NBA and other sports leagues to ask for a whole lot more money the next time any such negotiation is broached.

So, which league and casino operator will get together next? Las Vegas Sands and the NFL? Wynn Resorts and the MLB? Penn National Gaming and NASCAR? Caesars Entertainment and the US Olympic Team? LegalGamblingUSA believes only time will tell.