The NHL and NBA Gambling Deals, Explained

Equal parts fact and conjecture, I went ahead and compiled what you'll need to know about the NHL and NBA's deals with MGM.

After the NBA dove head-first into the brave new world of legalized gambling, it was only a matter of time before other leagues followed suit. On October 29th, it was the NHL’s turn to make the leap, as they announced they’d also be partnering with MGM.

But, when the details of both partnerships came to light, I was left feeling pretty unsatisfied. The benefits and consequences of these deals for both the gambler and layman alike are a lot more… intangible than their headlines might suggest. Here’s what you really need to know about the MGM’s new deals with the NBA and the NHL.

NHL bets typically only represent around 5-6% of a book’s total money wagered, a drop in the bucket compared to NFL and College Football wagers. But the principle of another pro league making a deal with a sportsbook will surely have a lasting impact.

 The Deals Are Non-Exclusive.

First, both the NBA and NHL signed non-exclusive deals, meaning the leagues are free to pursue partnerships with other books, resorts, etc. within the gambling sphere. The NHL took advantage of this almost immediately by making FanDuel their “daily fantasy partner” and allowing the New Jersey Devils to do the same. The Devils have also partnered with sportsbook William Hill along with the Vegas Golden Knights, foreshadowing potential team partnerships that could arise as more states legalize sports gambling.

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MGM will now have the necessary licensing rights to use NBA and NHL logos across their various betting platforms, but perhaps more importantly, they will have access to the developing analytic data being gathered by the leagues. Again though, the access to this data is non-exclusive, in more ways than one. It seems hard to believe that the puck and player-tracking data that the NHL may provide them in the future could drastically change their methodology in setting lines.

But, even if it did, MGM doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If MGM books were consistently setting lines that varied in any significant way from the rest of the books and being more successful in doing so, other books would take notice. It just comes with the territory that they’d only have that edge for so long.

This is all to say that MGM is definitely not cashing some kind of golden ticket here with this data, and betting at an MGM resort is still a net neutral over other books, and there will be other factors at play when finding the best book to place a particular bet at. If the opportunity to gather more data to use in setting lines is there for other books, it’s just bad business not to follow. It’s important to remember this is a new business space, in the legitimate sense at least, so all of these are still moving parts.

 The NHL Injury Report Policy Won’t Be Changing.

The NHL has always allowed teams to play it close to the vest with when it comes to reporting their players’ injuries. The logic here is pretty simple. Hockey players pride themselves on being durable and are often playing through nagging, or even serious, injuries. It’s viewed as a safety risk to report the extent and nature of an injury because then it becomes something other teams are targeting to get them out of the game.

To put it bluntly, gamblers get shafted here. In the end, it’s probably for the best from a utilitarian perspective, but the fact remains that if gamblers knew more details of player injuries, they would be betting accordingly. As of now, injuries on the report are generally labeled as either an “upper-body injury”, “lower-body injury”, “soreness”, or just straight up “undisclosed”.

Some teams divulge more info than others, but as you can see, this report isn’t doing a whole lot to inform gamblers. Courtesy of TSN

Westgate sports book vice president Jay Kornegay has spoken publicly, on the issue as it applies to the way their book sets hockey odds, saying “there’s only maybe a handful of guys that might make a major impact, like (Connor) McDavid or (Auston) Matthews or someone like that. Could make maybe a 15-cent impact in the line, which is very minimal. Almost everybody else is like zero impact or maybe five cents impact. … It wouldn’t be like (Tom) Brady being out.”

Two things to unpack here. 1. The Westgate Casino is notably NOT an MGM property, so Kornegay shouldn’t have any glaring vested interest in saying this and 2. It alludes to the NFL’s strict injury report policy. Many speculated that the injury policy would have had to have been changed to something more akin to that of the NFL. But as part of the new deal, the NHL has made it abundantly clear that they don’t plan on doing so. Nothing has changed on that front.

 The Leagues Aren’t Getting Their ”Integrity Fee”

Individual casinos run on a very fixed margin. And when the NBA was rumored to be requesting a 1% “integrity fee” from sportsbooks, they were promptly met with some serious resistance from bookmakers. This would have meant that 1% of every bet made on an NBA game was immediately kicked back to the NBA.

That money was to be spent on increased measures to monitor lines and wagers as it relates to the integrity of the game, which already happens in places like, you know, Vegas, where betting on games is legal already. Basically, the NBA wanted their cut and gave a not-so-thought-out way of spending it because they thought they had some leverage, but they were promptly stomped out by a unified front of bookmakers and casinos who just weren’t having it.

They were met with so much resistance in fact, that the NBA is getting a whopping 0% integrity fee as of now, and the idea hasn’t even been mentioned in some time. This undoubtedly set the tone for the deal the MGM made with the NHL, although any per-wager fee coming from the MGM and going to either the NBA or the NHL was always rather unlikely. It’s just highly unlikely that the analytic data provided to the MGM by the two leagues would ever make an immediate cut into their share worth it. The grittier details of both deals still remain unknown, as does the future of any similar deals, but any fee along these lines conceded by sportsbooks can expect to be either unanimous and be mandated of all books (this would be a lengthy process to iron out), or a minute portion of 1%, or both.

The good news for gamblers is any deal is better than no deal in this scenario. In the end, it’s going to be mostly about advertising, and that’s alright. Who can be the first to install gambling “lounges” in sports arenas first? Which book is going to be sponsoring the TNT cutaway right before tip-off detailing each team’s odds and player props? These are the kinds of places the fallout of these deals is going to be manifesting itself in.

The sports-betting world has existed for too long for the leagues to just come in and impose their will without a little time for the two sides to feel each other out. After all, the leagues and sports-betting have been at war for all but about the last 5% of their collective history, so let’s just be happy about what their future marriage may hold.

Parker Goss
Parker Goss
Parker Goss is a former collegiate bowler at the University of Illinois, where he dedicated himself to Recreational Sports Programming and officiating for the past four years. He’s a Senior Writer for Grandstand Central, where he writes on gambling, esports, and fan culture.


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