LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and three sports betting executives spoke during a panel discussion at the 2019 Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at The Sands Expo in Las Vegas. They talked about a number of topics including mobile sports betting, the need for 5G cellular service and future business partnerships.
In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that banned sports betting in most states. That decision effectively made sports betting legal nationwide. Previously, Americans had bet an estimated $150 million collectively on professional and amateur sports. Since the legalization, that figure has jumped to $11 billion in bets.
“We had, before the Supreme Court ruled, put a team in Las Vegas,” Bettman said. “We were the first sports league to do that. We began to have a relationship, for other reasons, with MGM, and [their CEO] Jim Murren gets a lot of credit for smartnering us up.”
Where is sports betting headed in the future? The answer may be mobile.
Matt King is the CEO of FanDuel. The online sports betting company was founded in New York City in July 2009. It is the second largest fantasy sports provider in the country with 6 million members.
“Marks and logos are real easy things to get operational quickly,” King said. “To convey a sense of trust to the user that’s going to be a good experience for them. For these partnerships to be successful long term, there’s a lot of work that goes into it on both sides to figure out what’s going to be the best thing for the fan. There’s really cool opportunities that open up. If we work in partnership with the league, over the next couple of years, you’ll create a truly differentiated user experience.”
Greg Carlin is the CEO of Rush Street Gaming. It operates brick-and-mortar casinos in Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York. Rush Street also runs an
iGaming platform called SugarHouse within the state of New Jersey.
“There has certainly been a rush to sign partnerships from our perspective,” Carlin explained. “Like Matt said, I think we are trying to figure things out. It’s going to take time to figure it out and try lots of things. We’re going with a regional approach. We’re really close with three leagues. We’re being very cautious and want to make sure the value is there. For example, our deal with Wells Fargo Center. We had our opening night game. They did a great job with getting our name all over the place. Frankly, I was a little disappointed with the amount of signage we have. We need to rethink our message and how are we driving players.”
Joe Asher is the CEO of William Hill U.S. It was the first British bookmaker to be licensed in Nevada. The company entered the U.S. market through acquisitions of three American-based bookmakers.
“Ultimately, it’s about what’s good for the fans,” Asher said. “Not everybody that’s watching hockey games is betting on them. The consumer is what matters. We’re all trying to come up with ways to acquire customers, keep them engaged and give them a good experience. The NHL, in this case, the brand, the logo means something to consumers. Same with the NBA and certainly the other leagues as well. Anything to engage customers and interact with them is what this is about. If you go to a Golden Knights game, right behind the net, where the Golden Knights shoot twice, there’s a William Hill logo.”
Asher also announced that William Hill has partnered with the Capital One Arena in Washington D.C. It will be the nation’s first major team pro sports facility to feature gambling, a sports betting parlor in 2020. The arena serves as the home for the Washington Capitals hockey team and Washington Wizards basketball team.
“These, I believe, are important partnerships as we collectively establish sports betting in the mainstream,” Bettman explained. “It’s a relatively new development that’s in its infantcy. What we’re collectively working on is how do we engage our fans, potential bettors, and how together through marketplace relationships that demonstrate mutual respect. How do we do this in a way that makes sense and gives the consumer, whether a fan or a bettor, the confidence in what they’re doing.”
Moderator Contessa Brewer from CNBC noted that the NHL commissioner was originally against sports betting, but now he is very much in favor of it. She said he went from “duking it out to embracing it.”
“In the early ’90s, a lot of states were considering sports betting as an opportunity for revenue,” Bettman explained. “Once it was clear that the Supreme Court might do something, whether or not I thought sports betting 27 years ago was a good idea. Intellectually, emotionally, I always had the concern. What would it do to sports? There’s nothing wrong with horse racing…but we’re something different. None of that really mattered once the Supreme Court ruled. At that point in time, I felt it was our league’s obligation to use the opportunity for sports betting to engage as many sports fans as possible. To make sure our existing fans had a compelling experience and maybe use this as an opportunity engage new fans who never focused on hockey.”
With the rise of mobile sports betting, comes the need for better cell phone bandwidth and coverage. Therefore, the commissioner and executives are working with carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to implement 5G mobile technologies inside their stadiums and arenas.
“We have a different set of technology issues,” the commissioner told the crowd. “Collecting data, puck-and-player tracking, scaling that across 31, about to be 32, buildings, creating data points that these guys will figure out. Secondly, we’ve got to get 5G into all of our arenas. If mobile betting is going to be done in real time, by thousands of people at the same time, our buildings have to have the capacity to handle those transactions. That’s an essential element of making the fan-customer experience as viable and as carefree as possible. Part of what we all have to do together is make it a positive experience.”
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