Three leagues now support sports betting regulation in the US
Legal Sports Report

Handicapping Who Is Next In Line To Join NBA, MLB And PGA Tour In Supporting Sports Betting

next in line sports betting

The dynamic lobbying duo of Major League Baseball and the NBA has grown by one.

At an Illinois sports betting hearing this week, NBA counsel testified that a PGA Tour representative was present in support of legalization.

The NBA and MLB started the movement at the league level, offering up their own legislative framework to lawmakers across the country. They’ve pretty much covered the map of states with active sports betting bills over the past few months.

The PGA Tour confirmed it’s aligned in a follow-up statement to Legal Sports Report, becoming the third professional league to take a supporting stance. It’s not a huge surprise, as commissioner Jay Monahan has kept his tour at the front edge of the conversation.

Given the momentum toward widespread legalization, it seems likely other leagues will follow suit. And in the spirit of sports betting, we thought we should put on our handicapper’s hat and set odds on which organization will be next to join the party.

Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to collect an integrity fee if we find a way to formalize this.

Odds of next league to support sports betting legislation?

Here’s our stab at handicapping which leagues will join the aforementioned organizations:

  • Major League Soccer: 3/1
  • NFL: 4/1
  • NHL: 5/1
  • UFC: 6/1
  • XFL: 6/1
  • LPGA Tour: 6/1
  • World Boxing Organization (WBO)/other boxing organizations: 8/1
  • IndyCar: 12/1
  • NASCAR: 12/1
  • Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP)/Women’s Tennis Association (WTA): 15/1
  • US Olympic Committee: 30/1

Breaking down the odds

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. But here are some caveats.

The WNBA is not in the above list; it falls under the oversight of the NBA. The same goes for other sub-leagues, like the G League (NBA) and MiLB (MLB). All three have franchises that call Nevada home, but they’re both included under the umbrella of their parent leagues.

That being said, here’s some insight into why we handicapped the field the way we did.

NFL straddling the fence

Three of the primary leagues now support sports betting laws, but two of the biggest haven’t joined the coalition — the NFL and NHL.

Football is the most popular US sport, both for viewership and for speculation. Millions of Americans play daily fantasy football, and Super Bowl Sunday has become a national holiday for bettors. The NFL mostly hates all of it.

Until recently, sports betting was a very firm no from commissioner Roger Goodell, but times they are a’changing.

At the recent owners’ meeting, league brass reviewed a “top-secret study” about sports betting behavior. Details are sparse, but there was definitely discussion about the growing momentum for legalization and the potential to capitalize on the industry.

If the NBA/MLB are successful in their lobbying efforts, the NFL would stand to see more revenue from sports betting than either of them. And the willingness to allow a franchise in Las Vegas may indicate that its stance is softening just a bit — or that it will need to reevaluate said stance, at least.

The odds reflect a suspicion that the NFL will join the movement at some point, though it will likely straddle the fence for as long as it’s able to.

NHL relevant to the issue

Hockey doesn’t lend itself to gambling in the eyes of commissioner Gary Bettman.

Rather than integrity, his concerns primarily involve protecting the “environment” and “family-friendly” image of the NHL. Try to disregard the fact that it’s the only non-combat sport with a fighting culture for now.

Like the NFL, the NHL has recently become a Las Vegas resident. The expansion Golden Knights franchise is in the middle of a successful inaugural season, playing their games within reach of several sportsbooks. Fans are quite literally betting on games from their seats thanks to mobile wagering apps.

Bettman considered trying to restrict that wagering (which never happened), so we can infer the opposition to sports betting remains. There’s a big reason the NHL (and/or AHL) should consider supporting it, though.

Since sports betting and fan engagement go hand in hand, leagues looking to expand their fanbase figure would be wise to gravitate toward the industry.

Sports betting for fan engagement

To reach back to the previous mention, this is where sub-leagues may find space to shine. Interest in women’s sports, for example, could see measurable growth within an expanded betting market.

This is also a big reason we list Major League Soccer as the favorite to join the sports betting bandwagon.

As the king of sports, soccer is the most popular game in the world for spectators and speculators alike. That interest hasn’t fully migrated to the US yet, though. MLS has been in existence for more than two decades, and the fanbase (though passionate) is still pretty localized.

So is wagering, with soccer accounting for somewhere around 10 percent of total US wagers. And most of that is wagered on European matches rather than the MLS. Injecting betting into existing US soccer markets (say, Seattle or New York) could help grow the game further.

Like the PGA’s Monahan, MLS commissioner Don Garber has been fairly progressive on the issue of sports gaming. His league has embraced daily fantasy sports, and it has an existing integrity partnership with Sportradar. The smart money says MLS will be the next sports league to side with the supporters.

It is a shame we can’t handicap the NHL any higher on this list because of the aforementioned reservations. If any US sport could use a “sports betting bump” to reach more potential fans, it’s hockey.

Just a quick mention, but add the XFL to this category, too. Founder Vince McMahon is a world-class entertainment mogul, and he’s already hinted at an appetite for sports betting and fantasy sports with his new football league.

There are a lot of unknowns with league details still being finalized, but the XFL line might present sneaky good value on the board.

The LPGA Tour is not directly linked to the PGA Tour, but it might think joining the bandwagon is a good idea as well, for both interest and integrity.

Sports betting for integrity

Even apart from top-level gains in revenue and fan interest, there are some ancillary benefits to sports betting. As the leagues will tell you, being able to monitor integrity in a transparent way is chief among them.

Individual sports are inherently more susceptible to betting manipulation than some team sports. That’s especially true for sports that are judged, as is the case for boxing and martial arts. Given their relative interest and history of their integrity issues, they would seem unlikely to stand at the front lines for legalization.

That being said, both the UFC and WBO would be wise to consider publicly supporting sports betting legislation. One of the goals of such legislation is to bring more clarity to betting activity, and that’s fundamentally beneficial to integrity. Just as hockey could use a boost to fan engagement, combat sports could use one in perceived (and actual) integrity.

Boxing, in particular, has been called the most corrupt sport in the world, and scandals are sometimes only revealed through suspicious betting patterns. It’s certainly a popular sport to bet on under the right circumstances; last year’s Mayweather/McGregor superfight attracted a lot of wagers.

Others that might fall into this group include the ATP and WTA.

The longshots

Some leagues and sports organizations will likely not support sports betting any time soon.

NASCAR comes immediately to mind. It’s among the group of secondary sports with passionate but isolated fanbases, mainly limited to the west and southeast. That geography could be a hindering factor in itself.

The organization is rooted in the southeast US, a region known to be especially conservative. Neither NASCAR officials nor the average fan are as likely to be interested in hitching their wagons to sports gambling. There are also sponsors to consider in any sport, of course, but sponsorship plays a particularly prominent role in racing.

That being said, IndyCar might be an interesting case. Its open-wheel format is more-closely related to Formula 1, which is a bettable sport abroad. Las Vegas sportsbooks also take action on IndyCar futures (as well as NASCAR) currently.

The USOC counts as a professional sports governing body, too. The Olympics and sports betting do not mix particularly well, and the international oversight body (International Olympic Committee) does not have a strong reputation for integrity (at least for its business dealings, less so on actual competitions.)

Recent misconduct scandal aside, the USOC doesn’t have any historical integrity concerns of its own. But there’s no indication it would have any interest in supporting sports betting. And the lingering storm clouds means it’s staying as far from the limelight as possible for the time being.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering regulated US gambling, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.