Leagues’ rhetoric evolving on sports betting

Leagues’ rhetoric evolving on sports betting

June 26, 2018 3:00 AM


Many a decade ago when things were a bit less ridged, one of the customers of the casino I was associated with at the time happened to own a professional sports team. He also loved betting on his own team, but because of image and reputation he always did it discretely.

Over a dinner when the topic of his betting on the team came up he shared that he never understood why his team’s league was so against sports betting. His thoughts being that everyone likes to have “a rooting interest” in their favorite team by having a little bet on the game or, in the vernacular of the day, “some skin in the game.”

As our casino at the time did not have a sportsbook (back then not every large casino had one) he got his bets down elsewhere. I was never aware of him betting against his own team, but when he would not bet large on his own team, particularly when they were favored to win, it seemed to inspire several of his attending casino hosts back then to wander out and get a bet down on the opposing team with frequent lucrative results.

In the years since then it has been a repetitive commentary from the gaming industry to the leagues that legal sports wagering would add interest to their games, spark enhanced enthusiasm, and spur fan loyalty. Dismissed as self-serving, the gaming industry’s comments were oft ignored.

While in recent years some leagues have softened their positions, and a few have full on embraced the notion of sports wagering, it wasn’t until the recent Supreme Court ruling against the federal ban on sports wagering that some leagues recognized the inevitability of legal sports wagering.

So, I had a bit of nostalgia on the above story and smug laughter as I watched an interview on CNBC with Mark Tatum, the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner, and listened to his comments about how the fans in legal sports wagering jurisdictions “tend to be more engaged with the product when they bet legally” while images of a few prominent Las Vegas sportsbooks were flashed on the screen during the interview.

It is interesting to note the change in language over the years. Mr. Tatum used phrases like “more fans engaged in viewing the product,” that sports wagering will lead to “more merchandise sales” and “increasing team valuations.” Whereas the phrases of a different era were simpler with gems like “rooting interest,” “skin in the game” and “team popularity.”

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Yet regardless of language, for those of us in the business, it comes as no shock but affirmation when Mr. Tatum made his comments about “fan engagement.” But it is too bad the league’s realizations come between 20 and 40 years later than perhaps it should have.

At least it appears as if future discussions about sports wagering will be less about if it will harm the leagues and more about its regulation, taxation and control.

Another Good Bye

It seems that over these last three years we have seen a number of great gaming innovators and operators pass away. Most have passed well into their latter years and because of their ages, while not expected, not a surprise when they did pass on. Perhaps that is why there was so much seeming surprise at the recent passing of Felix Rappaport at the young age of 65.

Over the years I had several dealings with Felix. We were on an advisory committee together and explored an intriguing international gaming deal together. At all times he was engaging, quietly energetic and fearless to break the mold and try new things, all projections of qualities not commonly found in the gaming industry of today.

Within the slew of calls I received about his passing, one commonality came out within the shared comments, which was what a nice/great guy he was. He was one of the few people in senior executive positions that no one can remember hearing anyone say a bad thing about. He was universally well liked.

While we all must depart this world sometime, 65, by today’s norm, is far too young, especially for someone as well liked and regarded as Felix. While his passing was widely reported, his cause of death was less reported on and was announced to be heart disease, which should be a reminder to everyone in the 24-hour-a-day casino business to stay more on top of their cholesterol, triglyceride and blood pressure levels.

What a testament to his character though to go out being widely regarded as a great guy.