At the end of April, Arizona became the first state to draft legislation that would allow professional sports teams to grant sportsbooks market access. Normally, only casinos can do that. Arizona’s legislation marks a new milestone in sports betting legislation. It could give states with smaller gaming industries the chance to attract more large sportsbook companies in the future. This could increase the competitiveness of otherwise small sportsbook industries down the road.
However, critics likely feel squeamish about letting professional sports teams control Arizona’s sports betting market access. Critics may be worried about how teams will maintain their games’ integrity as license holders. But with the same safeguards in place, Arizona’s professional sports leagues shouldn’t become corrupted by their sports betting licenses.
What Sports Betting Licenses Don’t Mean For Professional Sports
Allowing professional sports teams to sign market access deals with sportsbooks won’t compromise games’ outcomes or players’ performances.
Think about other states where casinos sign market access deals. The casinos are licensed to host sportsbooks. So, they can ask whichever licensed sportsbook they’d like to operate a sportsbook on the casino’s premise. Arizona’s sports teams can have a retail sportsbook within five blocks of their stadiums. They can also grant market access to sportsbooks and strike revenue-sharing deals with them.
But sports teams cannot profit from individual bets. Athletes, coaches, officials, and other league employees are prohibited from sports betting. They’re even forbidden to giving bettors inside information that could help bettors make better picks. Professional leagues impose penalties for breaking these rules that range from suspension to expulsion. It’s a narrow set of penalties that reflect how seriously professional sports–and college sports, for that matter–take the integrity of their games.
Signing market access deals with sportsbooks doesn’t allow anyone connected with the league to participate in sports betting. League rules and likely Arizona tribal rules will keep important sports officials out of sports betting. With those guardrails in place, teams and sportsbooks can’t strike deals on sure bets or competitive odds. Team licenses would just let teams profit from having a sportsbook in or near their stadiums.
How Arizona Could Be Set New Legal Precedent
Arizona’s sports betting bill won’t set the dramatic legal precedent that Supreme Court cases do. But it gives states with few casinos a way to expand the number of licenses it can offer. When they legalize sports betting, states set the number of sports betting licenses they want to award. This can be one of the most politically motivated parts of the process. Allowing few licenses can be seen as a safer foray into sports betting. (It’s ridiculous, but it can pull critics looking for reasons to say no to the pro-sports betting side.)
Allowing professional teams to grant market access gives states the flexibility to increase or decrease the number of licenses they award. Restricting licenses to sports teams can keep the market small and including them can make it large enough for all the major sportsbook companies. It’ll be interesting to see whether any states use a version of Arizona’s sportsbook model. But how states use their professional teams in the sports betting industry will be even more interesting.
What The Future Holds
Sports betting isn’t just expanding into new states. It’s also creeping into mainstream sports coverage. Anyone who’s eaten out a restaurant like BJ’s Brewhouse or Buffalo Wild Wings may have noticed odds in banners on the side and bottom of the screen during sports programs. Sports betting was always a part of the game for bettors. But now that it’s becoming more acceptable, it’s gaining visibility on sports news programs.
If this is off-putting to sports viewers, it shouldn’t be. Sportsbook odds don’t replace sports analysis. Journalists and analysts still rely on real-world data. They’re not taking oddsmakers’ word for any event’s probability. Otherwise, there’d be no point in sports news programs.
Similarly, allowing professional sports teams to grant market access to sportsbooks is a new legal process. It comes from an evolving industry and different states’ needs. As long as the guardrails keeping sporting events and sportsbooks separate remain in place, sportsbooks and sports teams can enjoy profitable relationships. Those will be the key to integrating sports betting into sports without succumbing to match-fixing scandals.