U.S. Sports Leagues Embracing In-Stadium Sportsbooks

October 19, 2023
Professional sports leagues and gambling companies in the U.S. are increasingly embracing the idea of easing access for sports fans to wagering on games by opening sportsbooks in or adjacent to stadiums.

Professional sports leagues and gambling companies in the U.S. are increasingly embracing the idea of easing access for sports fans to wagering on games by opening sportsbooks in or adjacent to stadiums.

In the Greater Washington, D.C. region, BetMGM operates a sportsbook at Nationals Park, home of baseball’s Washington Nationals, FanDuel's sportsbook operates at DC United's Audi Field, while Caesars Sportsbook operates a facility at Capital One Arena in downtown that hosts hockey’s Washington Capitals and basketball’s Washington Wizards.

Meanwhile, Fanatics Betting & Gaming operates the sportsbook at FedEx Field, home of the National Football League’s (NFL) Washington Commanders.

“Look, stadiums are assets. People love their teams and the way we’ve approached this is to say, is it something [fans] are interested in,” said Jonathan Nabavi, vice president of public policy and government affairs with the NFL.

Nabavi acknowledged that “not everyone will have the same interests” but having a stadium sportsbook certainly provides access to those interested in wagering on games.

Fanatics also opened a sportsbook at Progressive Field, home of Major League Baseball's Cleveland Guardians, in August. Other baseball stadiums with sportsbooks include the Chicago Cub's Wrigley Field in partnership with DraftKings and the Caesars Sportsbook at the Arizona Diamondback's Chase Field in Phoenix.

“Our policy is stadiums can have sportsbooks adjacent to or attached to the stadium, but not inside the stadium,” said Leo Villalobos, counsel for sports betting and compliance with MLB.

“You don’t need a ticket to enter the sportsbook. It also means, once you enter the stadium with a ticket you can also go to the sportsbook,” Villalobos said. “That’s the policy of where we are right now.”

Villalobos said allowing sportsbooks at MLB ballparks follows the trend of making stadiums more like a center of an entertainment district.

“You’ve seen that with the planning of new stadiums,” Villalobos said. “Make it the center where people go not just on game day; make it a destination for people outside of game days. I think sportsbooks are just a part of that.”

“Whether retail sportsbooks drive additional revenue, I don’t know. It may just be an amenity for that kind of entertainment district,” he added.

Sports-betting deals generally involve a sponsorship partnership with a sports-betting operator, such as BetMGM, DraftKings or Caesars Sportsbook, to remodel an area of the stadium into a lounge for fans to watch games on television.

Some of these deals cater exclusively to mobile sports betting, while others have opted for full-fledged retail sportsbooks, complete with betting windows and kiosks, as well as mobile wagering.

As things stand, Arizona, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, Ohio and the District of Columbia are the only states that expressly permit retail sports wagering at sports arenas.

“Owning this giant building that is dead 22 hours a day is a huge asset that is just a liability on the balance sheet most of the time,” said Casey Clark, senior vice president at the American Gaming Association (AGA).

Clark moderated a discussion during Global Gaming Expo (G2E) last week at the Venetian Expo in Las Vegas on how professional leagues perceive the growth of sports betting in the U.S. He was joined by Nabavi, Villalobos and Scott Warfield, vice president of gaming for the PGA Tour.

During the discussion, Clark also asked each of the participants about their league's approach to responsible gambling and policies concerning the number of sports-betting advertisements allowed during their broadcasts.

Warfield said the PGA Tour caps the number of 30-second sports-betting commercials to two an hour on any broadcast. He added that the tour was spending time considering what is the appropriate mix of advertisements during a broadcast.

“I look at one of the best opportunities for us and we have four live streams on ESPN Plus,” Warfield said. “You could perceive of a situation where a secondary broadcast became, over time, a betting feed actually targeting the audience for it.”

Warfield added that turning a PGA Tour Sunday afternoon broadcast into a betting feed “is probably never going to happen.”

“With that said, we want to continue to work with our operators to figure out how to make this additive to the productions,” he added. “I think there are ways to do that.”

Villalobos said MLB caps at six the number of sports-betting commercials allowed to be shown from first pitch to the end of the game, with that number rising to ten with the pre-game and post-game shows.

“That is something we evaluate annually and actively,” Villalobos said. “We also allow for an additional two commercials if they are [responsible gaming] focused.”

Nabavi said the NFL has a similar policy where from ten minutes before the game's start to the final whistle only six sports-betting commercials are allowed to be broadcast.

“Moving forward maybe we encourage operators to use their … advertisements for RG spots,” Villalobos said.

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