Lucky Devils: NJ Hockey Team Shines A Light On Financial Opportunity In Legal Betting Markets

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New Jersey is leading the way in the sports betting revolution, opening eight mobile sportsbooks (and counting) already, and inspiring predictions that the Garden State will soon surpass Nevada as the top sports betting market in the U.S.

That’s great news to executives for New Jersey’s sole National Hockey League team, the Devils, who are practically painting their faces with delight over the financial opportunities that are opening up.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV on Monday, Devils President Hugh Weber said he expects the team to make an extra $5 million in the 2018-’19 season through sponsorship deals with local sportsbooks and casinos. “Being the only [NHL] team in New Jersey gives us a huge advantage,” he noted.

Breaking the ice

Dabbling in the world of legalized gambling partnerships is nothing new for the three-time Stanley Cup winning franchise.

Shortly after regulated online poker came to the state in 2013, PartyPoker made a deal with the Devils, and the team is in an even better position with regard to sports betting, since there’s an obvious thematic connection and it’s the only major pro sports team with a “New Jersey” in front of its name.

Traditionally, ice hockey is not the most wagered-upon sport (and it’s a distant fourth in popularity in American team sports behind football, basketball, and baseball). In 2017, total sports betting revenue in Nevada was $248.7 million. Hockey gets lumped into the “other sports” category with golf, boxing, MMA, etc., all of which combined for only $32.3 million in revenue, less that 13 percent of the state’s overall take.

That said, ESPN.com reported an uptick in NHL betting thanks to the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights last season. The local team drew an average of 15 times more bets than its opponents and accounted for a staggering 30 percent of CG Technology’s hockey handle. Also, handle for “other sports” increased 36 percent from the 2016-’17 hockey season to 2017-’18.

The Golden Knights shifted the sports betting landscape quite a bit — especially for a team in a not-quite-mainstream sport like hockey — suggesting there’s a golden two-way opportunity in New Jersey. The Devils can generate handle for the New Jersey books, and the easy access to sports betting can generate fan interest in the Devils.

What’s the NHL’s stance on sports betting?

Simply based on the fact that the NHL was the first league to put a franchise in Vegas, it’s clear that its executives have relatively progressive views on gambling.

But when it comes to the dreaded topic of “integrity fees” — a small cut for each sports league from the states’ revenue, supposedly paying to ensure the players won’t throw the games — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has sounded rational but ultimately capitalistic.

“I’m not sure I buy the term ‘integrity fee,’” Bettman said prior to the most recent Stanley Cup finals, which featured the expansion Golden Knights. “I don’t worry about the integrity of our players … I think, though, if you’re going to allocate for yourself to run a business on our intellectual property and the performance of our athletes and the platform that we put on for our games, we’re entitled to be involved in that.”

Bettman added that when it comes to providing data on the games, “we’re not going to give it away.”

It makes sense not to want to give anything away for free. But when one of your franchises expects to earn an extra $5 million next season thanks to regulated sports betting, and every team in the leagues stands to benefit from increased fan engagement, maybe the use of the phrase “give it away” needs to be reevaluated.

Photo by Shutterstock.com.

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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