The Online Games Begin…Can Pro Teams “BetFair” Soon?

The announcement in the early fall came; New Jersey was continuing ahead and would now allow online poker play in the State in their latest challenge to prove that the Federally-mandated ban could be overturned. The goal was to get consumers engaged in late November, and with that a flood of legal, monitored and secure businesses would enter the marketplace to be the mobile hub of first online poker, and then conceivably other forms of online gaming down the road.

So into that mix, six Atlantic City casinos — the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, the Tropicana Casino and Resort; Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino; the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort; Caesars Atlantic City and Bally’s Atlantic City — began offering online gambling with a seventh, the Golden Nugget Atlantic City having an Internet gambling permit but has not yet begun offering games as it works out problems with its systems.

One of the largest, PokerStars and its millions of marketing dollars, was suspended by the New jersey Commission earlier this week because of its online Federal litigation issues. Others have begun spending away to lure fans not just in Atlantic City, but everywhere and anywhere they can advertise. 888Poker is one, finding media partners to offer their product. However the one that the consumer can’t go far without seeing…newspapers, online business sites, billboards on every highway is the UK-based Betfair.  Headquartered in London, Betfair is an experienced Internet gaming operator with over four million customers worldwide, and is publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange. They also run TVG, the largest legal wagering website and horse racing network in the US, having offered online horse race wagering for 20 years. The company has  pioneered and operates the world’s leading betting exchange, in addition to a full suite of sportsbook and casino gaming products in jurisdictions where permitted to do so. For some of their online services, one of those places is now the Garden State.

While the goal of many of the brick and mortar casinos is to prove that online gaming is safe, acceptable, and a lure to draw people ostensibly to the struggling Atlantic City buildings, Belfair’s marketing strategy may be a little different. Their ties are less bright lights and more of glowing mobile devices in every corner of the state, not just for poker and other games but for the coming tide of legalized sports betting across North America. Right now outside Las Vegas legal sports books are verboten, but the tide and the economics are changing. Professional sports are, and should continue to, hold strong against the tide of opinion that would engage in legal gambling because the Federal Government has not changed the law, being challenged in many States, that would allow the type of wagering legal on sport in other parts of the world. However the pressure to reap the millions, if not billions, in dollars from legalized gambling by professional sports is growing.

So how does BetFair take advantage of the marketplace now? Well how about sports-related advertising? Companies like PokerStars have used Canadian teams like the Toronto Raptors and Montreal Canadiens to advertise their product on courts and dasher boards with no backlash. Casinos readily partner with almost every professional sports team without incident. Abroad, online casinos and other legal bookmaking entities adorn the uniforms of professional soccer clubs, and even individual athletes like Rafael Nadal have worn legalized gambling patches during some Grand Slam events.  Casinos continue to host college basketball, and in the case of Mohegan Sun the WNBA, just feet from slot machines. So if all that works, why not have the State’s two highest-profile professional teams, the Devils and Red Bulls, use Betfair and others as an entrée into a larger scale partnership? The clubs could use the new category, or enhance a casino partnership they already have, to expose their mobile activity as well as add much-needed sponsor dollars with some creative, safe, and tasteful promotions.

Will online gaming be allowed as a sponsor for professional sports teams in New Jersey, or even in markets across the rivers like Philadelphia and New York which are televised into the state? The precedent is clearly there in other markets north of the border. The challenge will be if leagues and other entities worry that companies like Betfair can use what’s legal as a marketing wedge for future business in sports gambling. Then again, casinos, which are already all over professional sports marketing, will do the same thing, so there should not be an issue. If you work in sales or marketing for pro sports, quietly you watch and welcome these new mega-million marketing partners, like your predecessors did with the lottery and then casinos. You play by the rules and when a door opens you walk through with creative and competitive opportunities that pass the smell test of your wide-ranging fan base. Test, approve and move forward. 

Betfair dollars and access, along with other super-competitive gaming companies looking to engage with sports fans, await the next steps.