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Chicago Daily Herald
With apologies to the old yarn, and regardless of who might have said it first - Winston Churchill often gets the credit - with Gary Bettman it is almost always a matter of haggling about the price. Witness the most recent NHL announcement Monday with the screaming headline of the news release: "National Hockey League Announces Landmark Sports Betting Partnership with MGM Resorts." Hold on. Sports betting partnership?
This from the NHL commissioner who for decades said that gambling would be the death of sports and, specifically, professional hockey.
The NHL was a plaintiff, along with the NCAA and all the major sports, in a long court battle with New Jersey, which was fighting to legalize sports betting. In a 2012 deposition, Bettman said, "We're concerned how gambling and betting affects the NHL game and changes the perception of and challenges the integrity of the NHL game."
Integrity of the game. Nonsense, of course.
The best way to ensure integrity in wagering is to have regulators above board monitoring the action, and nobody does that better than Vegas. When something is askew, it's the legal books who see it first.
Said Bettman just two years ago, "I do believe that there is a negative element or atmosphere from any betting."
But having lost the New Jersey case and with sports gambling alive in so many states, and with many more coming online in the next year, now the NHL and all the sports want a piece of the action.
Each of the leagues has been trying to negotiate "integrity fees" with states that adopt sports betting, which is just another way of saying they want a cut of the proceeds after doing everything they could to prevent it from happening. New Jersey legislators called it "extortion" and essentially laughed at the leagues trying to grab money from them.
To Bettman's credit, the MGM deal is a wise marketing partnership which adds revenue to the league, and passing on it would have been foolish. Not long ago, the NBA made basically the same deal with MGM good for about $25 million, though Adam Silver long ago realized what the NFL has always known but has refused to acknowledge, that betting on NFL games is the reason such a terrible product continues to get ratings.
Bettman seems to have forgotten all of the awful things he thought about gambling, saying Monday, "The new sports betting landscape presents a unique opportunity for fan engagement utilizing technology and data that are exclusive to our league.
"As a leading global gaming operator and entertainment company, MGM Resorts is the perfect partner for us to begin our transformative entry into this space. "Fan engagement, technological advancement and innovation are paramount to our progressive approach and will be at the forefront of everything we do."
So now it's a progressive approach.
Well, that all sounds pretty promising and quite the turn of events and opinions from the NHL boss. It's also worth remembering that Bettman was - quite wisely - first to allow his league a franchise in Las Vegas, and it just happens to be a model franchise with a spectacular fan experience. The Raiders are on their way, and it's only a matter of time before all four leagues have teams in Sin City.
It's still rather entertaining to see Bettman flip on the gambling issue when such a small percentage of sports betting involves hockey, and it can only help grow his sport if more patrons were interested in the puck line.
As the NHL stated in its release, "MGM Resorts will receive access to previously unseen enhanced NHL proprietary game data that will be generated by the league's state-of-the-art tracking systems currently under development.
"Access to this data will allow MGM Resorts to provide its customers with specialized NHL game insights, as well as unlocking new and innovative interactive fan engagement and betting opportunities for its U.S. customers wherever legally available."
The NHL partnered with DraftKings in 2014, and that is gambling any way you slice it, so all the talk of being a little bit pregnant has long been absurd. Hockey needs gambling much more than gambling needs hockey. The NHL might be finally admitting that. And now it's just haggling about the price.
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