Entain to Lead MLS Players’ Gambling Awareness Efforts as Unions Seek Integrity Safeguards

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Major League Soccer hasn’t made the North American “Big Four” a Big Five yet, but it’s growing as a spectator sport, and, it stands to reason, eventually as a betting market.

With the NFL redoubling its efforts to educate its players on the league’s gambling rules, the union representing MLS players this week enlisted Entain Foundation U.S. and EPIC Risk Management to provide “gambling awareness educational programs and advisory resources,” according to a release.

MLSPA chief operating officer Dan Jones said:

This partnership with EPIC Risk Management and Entain Foundation U.S will enhance our ability to educate and equip our player pool as the presence and inherent risks of sports betting continue to evolve and permeate players’ lives.”

EPIC will produce and deliver gambling harm prevention education and awareness workshops, prevention resources, and advisory resources in a program funded by Entain.

“The players, staff and MLS, in general, have a global reach and will therefore be subject to considerable sports wagering attention around the world,” Ben McGregor, director of sports partnerships at EPIC Risk Management, said in the statement. “This program is intended to provide MLSPA members with informed understanding to minimize the risk of sporting integrity issues that can arise from gambling activities, as well as utilizing our considerable lived experience from facilitators who have elite sports backgrounds, who can also advise on the effects that gambling-related harm can have on an individual’s performance and welfare.”

Player Protection Crucial as Sports Betting Spreads

Determining the exact amount wagered on specific leagues is difficult because of the disparate ways in which states report sports betting activity.

In many states, the NFL and NCAA are lumped together as “football”, and “basketball” entails both the NBA and college game (Colorado is a notable exception). “Soccer” could mean anything from MLS to Scotland’s Soccer League Two.

But, using data from states could be informative.

In Illinois, home of the Chicago Fire, the amount bet on soccer increased from $7.2 million in 2021 to $9.4 million in 2022. Granted, the 2022 figure was still less than the catch-all “other” category, but it dwarfed hockey ($5.8 million).

This gain, though, apparently hasn’t translated nationally.

Asked to categorize the growth of MLS betting in recent years, one sportsbook executive responded:

None.”

MLS enhanced its data distribution deal with IMG Arena a year ago to produce a more enticing gambling product. Inter Miami’s signing of Argentine soccer legend Lionel Messi is certain to further stoke improving viewership, if not betting interest when he debuts in July.

Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi (AP Photo/Nicolas Aguilera)

MLSPA Association Joins Entain’s NFL, NCAA Partnerships

Entain Foundation U.S. was launched in 2019 by the Entain Global Foundation and the Entain Group with a focus on funding gambling education efforts.

“Given the significant ongoing rise in the popularity of sports betting throughout the country, the importance of educating athletes and the public at large cannot be overstated,” said Martin Lycka, Senior Vice President for American Regulatory Affairs and Responsible Gambling at Entain.

The EPIC program will be available to all 29 MLS teams. Entain Foundation U.S. and EPIC announced similar programs with the NCAA in 2022 and also work with the NFLPA. EPIC has used the program previously with English Premier League teams Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United and with the 72 members of the EFL.

MLS Sports Betting Partnerships

The MLS named BetMGM as its first gambling partner in 2019. At the team level, DC United (FanDuel), FC Cincinnati (SuperBook), Colorado and Columbus (Tipico), and Nashville (Wagr) have sports betting partnerships. The DC United deal includes a FanDuel sportsbook at Audi Field. All include MLS betting odds in their books for fans to visit and bet on.

PointsBet was a “founding partner” of Austin FC, but that sportsbook is in the process of being sold to Fanatics.

About the Author
Brant James

Brant James

Senior Writer
Brant James is a senior writer who covers the sports betting industry and legislation at Gaming Today. An alum of the Tampa Bay Times, ESPN.com, espnW, SI.com, and USA Today, he's covered motorsports and the NHL as beats. He also once made a tail-hook landing on an aircraft carrier with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and rode to the top of Mt. Washington with Travis Pastrana. John Tortorella has yelled at him numerous times.

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