MGM Buys WNBA Franchise That Will Play In Las Vegas: The Latest Evidence That Sports Betting Doesn’t Harm Leagues

Posted on October 17, 2017 - Last Updated on October 18, 2017

[toc]If the US pro leagues‘ acceptance of regulated sports betting needed any more weight on the scales, it got it on Tuesday.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that MGM Resorts International is the buyer of a WNBA franchise, with plans to move it to Las Vegas.

Las Vegas plus pro sports

Off the top, that means three top-level pro franchises will eventually play in Las Vegas:

  • The NHL’s Golden Knights (which started play this year)
  • The NFL’s Oakland Raiders
  • The WNBA’s San Antonio Stars

With the WNBA falling under the purview under the NBA, that leaves just Major League Baseball without a permanent presence in Nevada, the only state where there is legal sports betting on single games.

A casino company owns a pro sports team

MGM is more than just a bunch of casinos; it is a worldwide-known entertainment brand. But it is also known for its gaming and its sportsbooks. And now it owns an actual sports franchise. It will also reportedly play its games in Mandalay Bay, a casino resort with a sportsbook.

That’s certainly a step further than the other leagues have gone in their entanglements with Nevada, gaming and sports betting:

Of course, that the NBA would be liberal on this front shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long been a proponent of regulated sports wagering, in some form, despite the NBA’s ongoing presence against the New Jersey sports betting case.

That’s not to mention that the new owner of the Houston Rockets, Tilman Fertitta, owns the Golden Nugget, which operates sportsbooks in Nevada.

All of this should be more proof that Silver and the NBA are not afraid of regulated sports betting. (They still just remain opposed to the “unregulated” sports betting that would result if NJ were to win its case in the US Supreme Court.)

A different tune from the NBA

Of course, the NBA had a much different attitude a decade ago. From a previous story at Legal Sports Report, on the early stages of the NJ case:

One of the three confidential studies cited favorably by Judge Shipp for ruling in favor of the leagues was the “2007 NBA Las Vegas/Gambling Survey.”

“The 2007 NBA Las Vegas/Gambling Survey draws an undisputed direct link between legalized gambling and harm to the Leagues,” wrote Judge Shipp. “Placing professional sports in close geographic proximity to legalized gambling, the exact situation which 17% of survey respondents disapproved, would automatically and immediately occur if legalized sports gambling pursuant to [New Jersey’s law] was implemented.”

Harm from sports betting?

The bottom line is this: It’s difficult for any of the above leagues to argue that regulated sports betting harms them in any meaningful way. If you’re willing to put franchises in the only place where sports betting is legal — when you have 49 other states (and Canada) in which to put your teams — the argument that sports betting is “bad” mostly goes out the window.

Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has sounded positive notes about the prospect of legal sports betting. And it’s not impossible to envision an MLB team in Vegas some day.

Letting a company that actually operates sportsbooks own a franchise is just more evidence that the leagues don’t think sports betting harms sports, when it’s done the right way in a regulated environment.

…all during the NJ sports betting case

The movement of teams to Las Vegas comes at an interesting time for sports betting in the US.

A victory for New Jersey in its case to legalize sports gambling — to be heard in December — could result in a widespread expansion of sports betting across the US. There is impetus for Congress to revisit PASPA, the federal sports betting ban at issue in the SCOTUS case.

A casino company owning a pro franchise in Las Vegas should just be one more step toward everyone accepting that a regulated environment for sports betting is the policy that makes the most sense.

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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.

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