NHL Hires Gambling Watchdog With Vegas Expansion Looming

What could possibly go wrong?

Vegas looks nice — REUTERS
Aug 29, 2016 at 11:48 AM ET

Here’s a pro tip about Las Vegas you won’t hear anywhere else: people gamble there. It’s even legal. Ergo, folks who enjoy gambling and are good at predicting the future either live there or go there. Nefarious individuals who wager larger sums like to reduce uncertainty and, in some cases, improperly incentivize sporting participants to do something out of the ordinary so that the bet comes to fruition.

So when the NHL decided to expand to Vegas—because someone thought the first ice hockey team in the desert was such a good idea—at least the league had the foresight to realize the need for some oversight. That’s why the NHL recently retained gambling watchdog Sportradar AG to provide surveillance on the betting market, keeping tabs on unusually large wagers, suspicious streaks, and the like.

“You would be surprised how far this cancer is already in sport,” Andreas Krannich, Sportradar’s managing director of strategy and integrity, told Bloomberg. “There’s already international organized crime looking into this topic.”

The NFL already invests in Sportradar, and there have been recent reports about a six-year, $250 million partnership with the NBA. Major League Baseball has hired a competing firm, Genius Sports.

Hockey commissioner Gary Bettman is at least realistic: His sport, a distant fourth among the traditional four major pro sports in North America, is hardly a major draw for gamblers. One estimate cited by ESPN that hockey accounts for only 3-to-5 percent of Vegas sports wagers; Bloomberg noted that, while football and basketball drew bets between $1.4 and $1.8 billion, hockey suffered the comparative indignity of being grouped with “other” sports that had only $336 million in bets.

Even though there is now a sports franchise in Las Vegas, enlisting a gambling watchdog is a prudent move and probably not an indicator one way or the other about whether legalized gambling will become more widespread. NBA commissioner Adam Silver previously has voiced support, although Bettman appears more reticent.

Given the proliferation of daily fantasy sports and the changing attitudes around the country, legalized gambling is probably inevitable, and it’ll be interesting to witness the intersection of pro sports and casinos in close proximity when the team debuts in fall 2017—if anyone’s allowed to watch something happening inside Vegas, of course.