The NHL has started partnering with sportsbooks over the last couple of years, joining the rest of the NHL in simultaneously reversing course on the idea of sports betting and it’s potential to harm the integrity of their games. If you are one to look for omens, there have been absolutely no bad ones since the beginning of 2020.
OK, but really, of all the leagues, it seems like the NHL is in one of the best positions to capitalize on a gambling partnership. Geographically, of course, they were the first sports league to put a team in Las Vegas (followed by the WNBA and NFL) and are still the only team to expand into Vegas, rather than relocate an existing franchise.
Partnering with a sportsbook or casino is simply good local investment in the Las Vegas community. Of course, casino partnerships aren’t unheard of in other markets or other sports. In the WNBA, outside of the Las Vegas Aces, the Connecticut Sun are named after the Mohegan Sun Casino, and speaking locally, the Minnesota Wild, as well as other Twin Cities sports franchises all have ties to Treasure Island, Grand Casino and Mystic Lake Casino in the state, as other markets are closely tied with their local establishments.
Sportsbooks are a different thing, as the gambling there relates entirely to the business at hand — playing a sport. The NHL is expected to come down hard on Evander Kane, who was alleged to have gambled on hockey, because they want to preserve the games’ integrity while also taking in the money that sportsbooks have to offer. With the option, starting next year, to advertise on NHL jerseys and sportsbooks among those interested in advertising, the connection will only be closer, and fans and gamblers alike will want the pairing to be above board.
Of course, the structure of a hockey game, at least in my mind, seems difficult to corrupt, if players are paid off to fix games. Skaters aren’t on the ice for even a third of a game, and are victims to puck luck and the decisions and playmaking of the other 11 players on the ice, as much as they are beneficiaries of their own skill. Goalies having bad games aren’t likely to make it through an entire game, and still need their own team to not score, and even then, it would be tough for a good netminder to convincingly be bad enough to intentionally lose a game.
Gambling adds an extra zest to games (done responsibly) and the NHL, as most leagues now do, wants to capitalize on that. With a pandemic mostly behind us, extra excitement and intrigue is good news, and hockey can embrace it reliably and ethically.