It’s a good bet legalized gambling is coming to our sports leagues
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is all in with Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, who once again this past summer made his case for pro sports to adopt gambling. Silver first stated three years ago, in an op-ed piece he penned for the New York Times, that the time was at hand for leagues, his NBA included, to jump the slot machine.
If he needed an Amen Adam! or a fellow preacher to join him at the ownership pulpit, he has one in the 77-year-old chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.
“I think there is a place for it,” said Jacobs, who on Monday was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. “What I have watched happen in England and Australia . . . places where we do business . . . it brings another aspect of the engagement of the fan.”
In other words, betting is good because fans want it. Sure, there’s no denying a large portion of the public, some who aren’t even all that connected to the sport they’d wager on, likes betting action. Gambling is a proven winner in the Bay State, its lottery perennially among the richest in the nation. We like putting up a buck or two for the sport of it, so attaching that passion to sports for some of us would be just another permutation of, well, action.
And true sports fans like it, too. Those who know their teams, know their players, those who already feel the “engagement,” they’ll all want in on the action. No question. We have the booming gambling business of daily fantasy sports as proof.
When legalized gambling lands at the Garden — and some optimists believe it could be in the next 18-24 months — there will be plenty of Bruins and Celtics fans who’ll factor $20, $50, $100 or more of betting dough into their nightly engagement. It costs $48 to park beneath the building for a game nowadays. Makes perfect sense to try to get even with the garage by placing a wager on, say, Tuukka Rask shutting out the Habs (what are those odds?!) or Kyrie Irving pouring in 30 against the Pacers.
Let’s not kid ourselves about Jacobs, the multibillionaire who built his company, Buffalo-based Delaware North, into a worldwide concessions and entertainment brand. When he’s saying “engagement,” he’s envisioning revenue and profit. Lots of both.
Ditto for his fellow NHL owners. There are 24 NHL arenas in the United States, including one now in Las Vegas. If the feds and states give the nod, all those arenas transform into casinos when the local teams are playing. On Causeway Street, roughly a 10-minute drive from the mega casino Steve Wynn is building in Everett, the Celtics and Bruins could be delivering 100 or more casino dates a year. If they’re selling out, that’s approaching 1.8 million would-be bettors on the premises.
One industry insider, convinced that betting won’t be banned much longer in Boston or most other US cities, told me last week that Utah and Texas are unlikely ever to buy into it. Utah, he said, because of its strong Mormon influence.
“And there’s a bulwark of Puritanism down there in Texas,” he opined, “that won’t allow it to happen.”
Yeah, we had Puritanism in these here parts, too, for centuries, till we said to hell with that. Some of us still remember when the Blue Laws, tracing back to the late 1600s, made it illegal for stores in the Commonwealth to open on Sunday. By and large, we went to church, hung out with the fam, and thanked God for granting the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins, and Celtics special Blue Law dispensation.
Jacobs readily acknowledges that betting will bring in big money. There would be the action placed by the fans, but also corporate revenue streams generated from the industry’s largest sponsors — rights fees and in-game advertising, be it along the rink boards or flashed on the arena LED banners.
“There will be money,” he said. “Clearly, there is a lot of money in gambling . . . and if people are going to gamble on your sport, then I think you should be compensated for it.”
In the NHL, noted Jacobs, “anything designed today is split 50/50 with the players. So you getting rich is the same as the players getting rich. And the fan will be further engaged by it. The more we can get them to interact with the game itself, I think the better their experience will be.”
Those words are clip and save for the NHL Players Association. It’s true that the league and its players halve what they determine to be hockey-related revenue (HRR). But all collective bargaining agreements have “good until” dates, and we’ll see if Jacobs’s 30 other owners, including those in Canada, will be as willing to share the newfound, bountiful wealth.
If the betting experience follows the model in England, where betting on sports long has been part of the social fabric, the betting will expand far beyond the arena. Regulated betting would be allowed virtually everywhere. You could place money on the Sox at your local convenience store or doughnut shop. A Globe, a coffee, breakfast sandwich, and $10 on Chris Sale to win on Opening Day. Twenty bucks and you’re covered. If you couldn’t get to the arena or the local store, you could hop online and wager via the Internet.
“If we regulate, do it right . . . ” mused Jacobs, “it enhances it for the fans and adds to their engagement.”
Get ready to be engaged, because it’s coming, folks. As to the exact date, well, your bet’s as good as mine, but I’m going with October 2019, with $100 on the Sox to beat the Phillies in the World Series. A fool and his money, you know?