Roundtable: How will legalized sports betting impact the NHL?

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On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) and give states the power to pass legislation legalizing sports betting. Hockey has never been a highly bet sport in volume, but the decision will certainly impact the NHL. ESPN’s NHL experts — and a gambling analyst — weigh in on the potential outcomes for the game of hockey.


In general, how — if at all — will betting on hockey change following the Supreme Court decision? Can we expect a bump in handle, or will hockey remain one of the lesser-bet sports?

Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer: Speaking from personal experience, no one really considers betting on hockey until betting on hockey is a distinct consideration. The fact that Vegas Golden Knights fans this season could place a bet, walk across the street and cheer for the over makes it much more attractive. That ready availability changes everything. The bump is real, albeit one relative to hockey’s popularity.

Emily Kaplan, national NHL reporter: As states begin to allow sports betting, it’ll theoretically bump bets across the board. I think hockey will maintain its status as a lesser-bet sport relative to others.

Chris Peters, Insider NHL prospects writer: Making it easier to place wagers should increase the volume a bit, though perhaps not to the degree of other sports. Hockey remains one of the hardest to predict because of league parity. That said, I’d be interested to see whether early-season betting on point over-unders, preseason Stanley Cup picks and wagers of that nature shoot up a bit.

Doug Kezirian, SportsCenter anchor and gambling analyst: Hockey will definitely continue to represent a low handle. Simply put, money lines are harder to comprehend than point spreads.

Ben Arledge, Insider NHL and gambling editor: Hockey will remain a relatively low handle. You’ll obviously see more casual fans placing bets on their way to the game as different states pass legislation, and as Chris pointed out, I think you could see a bit of a hop in futures bets. And once the playoffs roll around, with the NFL and college football in the offseason, I’d expect to see a decent increase in handle for those spring months. Who doesn’t love a good playoff over bet? But yes, in the grand scheme of things, hockey will still be an afterthought at sportsbooks.


What is one specific hockey bet you want to see?

Wyshynski: Realistically? In-game wagering between the end of regulation and the start of overtime, on everything from the teams to players scoring the game winner to a potential shootout. In my dreams? In-game wagering that’s so fast that you could get odds on a power play’s success or failure in the seconds leading up to it.

Kaplan: Anything that reflects the unpredictability and nonstop action of a hockey game. Readjusted game lines after the first or second period would be fun.

Peters: Ever go to a game and have everyone throw a few bucks in a hat and pick who will score the first goal of the game? Depending on how widespread and easy betting becomes, you won’t need a group and can maybe even get a little more aggressive right from your phone.

Kezirian: I think in-game betting is the future of the industry. We have a society that can become bored easily. Thus, allow fans to wager on a portion of the game that creates a quick decision: next team to score, total goals in the next period, etc.

Arledge: You could get really fun with it. How about an over/under on Carey Price‘s save percentage at .922, or whether Alex Ovechkin will hit the over on 341.5 shots on goal? Perhaps a head-to-head on who will score more goals over the course of the season, Nikita Kucherov or Patrik Laine? As far as in-game wagers go, how about whether the Chicago Blackhawks will score in the third period, or if the Vancouver Canucks will tally on the power play, or who will lead the Boston Bruins in ice time in the second period? Just depends on how far the bookmakers want to go, although those last two seem like pipe dreams at this point.


Will the relatively low scoring of the NHL be a deterrent for casual bettors?

Wyshynski: If casual bettors are the ones who slavishly wager on NFL point spreads, then yes, it’s a barrier. If casual bettors are willing to look for big returns on money line bets and the plethora of futures wagers on individual players’ scoring totals, then a low-scoring affair or two won’t be a deterrent.

Kaplan: Plenty of casual sports fans latch onto the Stanley Cup playoffs because of the heightened drama, and there’s no increase in scoring there. For someone looking to bet, I think it comes down to accessibility, knowledge and added rooting interest in watching the game.

Peters: It all comes down to convenience, and depending on just how convenient things become, I could definitely see some increased action on individual games. I found Doug’s piece on the Golden Knights helping raise hockey’s betting profile particularly interesting and encouraging. If this is a way to increase interest in hockey, that’s a huge bonus.

Kezirian: I am not convinced the amount of scoring plays a huge role. It’s not like the bettors expect an NBA game. This comes down to understanding the money line and the convenience of placing the bet.

Arledge: Maybe for certain aspects. Over/unders of 5.5 in the NHL probably won’t drive the same excitement for someone new to sports betting that an NFL over/under of 52.5 would bring (although last night’s empty-netter to hit the over with under three seconds left sure begs to differ). But in the end, the low scoring won’t stand in the way of casual fans betting an individual game on the money line or placing a futures bet on a Stanley Cup winner, which are the two areas that I see dominating hockey betting over the next few seasons.


Will the New Jersey Devils see an initial bump in action, similar to what we saw with the Golden Knights?

Wyshynski: I think that really hinges on how the relationships develop between a team like the Devils and, say, a place like Monmouth Park racetrack, the epicenter of Garden State sports wagering. English Premier League teams and sportsbooks have had a relationship for more than a decade. Will the Devils lean into betting as part of the fan experience? Will they sponsor “Devils wager nights” at the track for road games? Opportunities are there.

Kaplan: I think it will be a slower climb than what we saw in Vegas, but there’s no reason there won’t be an uptick in betting action there. Washington is another state I’d keep an eye on. If it regulates betting, it could be a way to generate interest among casual sports fans in the expansion team’s inaugural season, a la Vegas. Washington currently has no legislation introduced.

Peters: I would assume the Devils will see a bump. It’s another access point in an area where fans are already engaged and passionate about hockey, with New Jersey and nearby New York considered in the footprint of “traditional” hockey markets.

Kezirian: New Jersey likely will not experience the same betting spike because those teams’ fan bases are not as immersed in betting as Vegas residents. If the spike does occur, some oddsmakers told me they may shade the lines to protect their liability, but they also trust the market odds and will not be scared away too easily by overwhelming support for a particular team.

Arledge: We won’t see the surge in betting that Vegas felt with the Knights, in part because it was the first year of an expansion team that blew away expectations and in part because that team happened to play in the only place in the country where sports betting was legal. However, I do think you’ll see a lot more fans betting the Devils on the way to the Prudential Center. Why not? It adds a layer of excitement to the game. But it will come down to convenience, which ultimately limits the possibilities. And if Pennsylvania figures out its taxing issue, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins could soon see some game day action. Pennsylvania’s governor said he hopes to see sports betting legalized in the state by the end of 2018.


How will the NHL’s tight-lipped nature surrounding injuries play a part, and does the league need to change its vague injury reporting?

Wyshynski: Alas, we might be forever stuck with “upper body” and “lower body.” But where the NHL is going to have to change is in the specificity of a player’s status for the game, similar to the NFL’s policy. Let’s see the end of “game-time decision” and the start of “doubtful” as a definition of health.

Kaplan: The league has been bullish about maintaining its vague injury reporting policy for some time. There are some opponents, such as recently retired Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock, who offered specific updates. Nonetheless, I don’t see the legalization of betting in certain states being the thing that pushes the needle.

Peters: The league should change the policy anyway to make teams more publicly accountable, especially with the rise of head trauma awareness. This may push them in the right direction, but the fact that we’re not there already is particularly disappointing.

Kezirian: Transparency is always good for the sports fan. However, I doubt injury disclosure is a major reason for any betting aversion. Betting is entertainment, and those interested will embrace it.

Arledge: Legalization of sports betting isn’t going to be the incentive to push the league toward a more direct injury report. The ever-so-vague upper- and lower-body injury designations certainly won’t be welcomed by bettors, but it’s no different than the “Questionable” tag running rampant in the NFL. The NHL injury report won’t offer too much information for bettors, but like the NFL, you’ll get an idea of a player’s availability based on practice participation, pregame skates and media reports. It’s not ideal, but I don’t think it’s a big factor in limiting hockey betting.



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