The NHL announced this week it’s getting into the gambling business.
The league signed an agreement to provide casino giant MGM Resorts International with data for use in betting where it’s legal in the United States.
So what does the announcement mean for Canadian hockey fans? Not a whole lot in the short term, unless they’re planning to make a trip south of the border to place a bet.
The U.S. Supreme Court opened the way for expanded gambling last spring when it ruled states could now accept sports wagers. Canada allows parlay, or multigame, bets run through lotteries in each province, but doesn’t permit wagers on single events.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters in New York that the league’s seven Canadian teams “have been working with the lottery authorities who control gambling on a provincial basis.”
“I think that will continue,” Bettman said Monday. “I know there have been a lot of discussions about going to single-game betting as opposed to parlay, which is what currently exists. As the law evolves, you will see our evolution in dealing with it.”
MGM, which struck a deal with the NBA and WNBA in July, is the NHL’s first official betting partner.
The league had long been opposed to wagering on its events, but Canadian Gaming Association (CGA) president and CEO Paul Burns said the change to U.S. laws forced the NHL to revise its position.
He added the pact with MGM is also good news for Canadians hoping for the opportunity to one day plunk some money down on a legal, single-game wager on home soil.
“It marked a departure for the NHL, especially here in Canada,” Burns said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “As the country’s most popular sports league, it was important when they were not in favour of amending the law. Now entering into these types of agreements, we welcome it. We’re encouraged by it. Hopefully they will help get the laws changed here in Canada.”
Las Vegas-based MGM is gaining access to proprietary NHL data that could eventually include puck- and player-tracking information once the system goes through a testing phase.
Bettman repeatedly cited “fan engagement” in the United States as one of the big bonuses of the deal for the league. There have been previous attempts to amend the Canadian Criminal Code to allow for single-game wagers, including private member’s bill that died in the Senate before the 2015 federal election.
Burns said the CGA has business, labour, law enforcement – Canadians wager and estimated $14-billion a year illegally, according to organization’s statistics – and municipal governments on board with getting single-game wagering approved.
Now the NHL has made it clear it’s also open to the idea.
“The last remaining stakeholder that had concerns and objections were professional sports leagues,” Burns said. “They’ve now changed their positions. We don’t see any impediments to get the Criminal Code amendment done here in Canada.”
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