New NBA franchise owner also owns Golden Nugget, which runs sportsbooks
Legal Sports Report

As NBA Fights NJ Sports Betting, Buyer Of Houston Rockets Also Owns Sportsbooks

Tilman fertitta Golden Nugget
It’s continuing to get more and more difficult for pro sports leagues in the US to argue that any harm comes from state-regulated sports betting.

The latest example is new Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who bought the NBA franchise for $2.2 billion.

Fertitta, the NBA and sports betting

Fertitta is a billionaire, obviously. While he made a lot of his money via restaurants, he also owns Golden Nugget Casinos. The Golden Nugget operates sportsbooks in both Las Vegas and Laughlin.

How involved in the sportsbook is Fertitta? He reportedly personally approved a very large bet on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament earlier this year.

The Golden Nugget pulled down NBA futures bets briefly yesterday, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. There’s also some question of how the Golden Nugget will handle Rockets games. That’s according to the R-J in talking with GN sportsbook director Tony Miller.

Miller said it is still unclear how the sports book will handle the Rockets and NBA games during the regular season, though there is some precedent.

Caesars Entertainment Corp. Chairman Gary Loveman owns a minority stake in the Boston Celtics. Caesars properties accept NBA wagers at their sports books, but not on Celtics games.

That Fertitta oversees an operation with Nevada sports betting does not appear to be at all an issue for the NBA. It might be an issue for another league, like the NFL, even though it has become extremely lenient towards gambling in general. (Also of note: New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft at least has ties to casinos with sports betting interests.)

That perhaps should not be a shock, however, as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been a vocal proponent for legal sports betting via federal regulation. Also, from the Houston Chronicle:

Feritta is also the owner of Golden Nugget Casinos, but casino ownership is not considered an issue with the NBA regarding ownership approval with several current owners owning stakes in casinos.

Still, an NBA owner with ties to sports betting is a bit of a sticky wicket.

The NBA and NJ sports betting

The NBA remains one of the plaintiffs in the ongoing case regarding New Jersey sports betting, which will be heard by the US Supreme Court later this year. New Jersey is attempting to repeal its prohibition on sports betting, which is illegal under current federal law.

The NBA and its fellow co-plaintiffs — the NCAA and the other major pro sports leagues in North America — will argue in the case that the NJ law in question is detrimental to is product and game integrity. Of course, the NJ sports betting law would set up what amounts to unregulated sports betting at the state’s casinos and racetracks. Today, the NBA, at least, wants federally regulated sports betting.

But in the early days of legal wrangling between the leagues and NJ, the NBA’s tune was different. From a previous Legal Sports Report story:

The same NBA lawyer filed court papers in 2012 seeking to seal NBA-commissioned studies purportedly showing how the league was injured and irreparably harmed by legalized and regulated sports betting, according to court documents obtained by Legal Sports Report.  …

“[S]ports gambling in New Jersey would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports,” wrote league attorneys in the initial Aug. 7, 2012 complaint. “Plaintiffs reputation and goodwill will be irreparably damaged if the violations [of PASPA] alleged herein are not preliminarily and permanently enjoined, including but not limited to the fact that the proliferation of sports gambling will adversely affect the way that the public views amateur and professional sports.”

The erosion of the idea of ‘harm’ from regulated sports betting

A sportsbook owner in the midst of the NBA should be the clearest sign yet that legalized and regulated sports betting isn’t hurting anyone. If the NBA thought so, it certainly shouldn’t let Fertitta into its ownership club.

But Fertitta’s sportsbooks operate under Nevada gaming regulations. They have clearly been good for game integrity, even as betting on the NBA has ticked upwards in Las Vegas and the rest of Nevada in recent years.

The NHL and the NFL, of course, are putting franchises in Vegas. The proximity to legal wagering isn’t harming game integrity. In fact, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has intimated that regulation in the state might actually be helpful for game integrity.

Fertitta’s ownership of the Rockets is the latest sign that regulated sports betting isn’t causing harm to pro sports leagues.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.