Just a few short years ago, it was hard to truly imagine what the National Basketball Association (NBA) would look like if the floodgates were opened and casinos were able to sponsor teams, matches and leagues. Such sponsorship was, after all, banned for many years: the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was created to break the direct link between betting and playing sport, and one of the side effects of this was that firms in the wider gambling sphere did not have much license to get involved, either. So while sponsorship by organizations in other spheres was possible, big money interventions from the likes of casinos and betting providers were not.
To some, the arrival of casinos in the big money sponsorship stakes has had a profound and somewhat irreversible effect on the way the NBA operates. To others, though, casino sponsorship is simply rolling on in the background while the main business of enjoying the basketball continues. This article will explore both sides of the story and look more closely at whether big money sponsorship has really had so much of an everlasting impact on the operation of the NBA.
Yes: it’s unalterable and irreversible
To some, the arrival of casino sponsorship in the NBA – and, indeed, in other similar big-ticket US sports – is a problem. Or, at least, it’s a phenomenon that is not only having profound consequences but which is also to some extent irreversible. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act focused on sports betting, but it also majorly contributed to a culture that disparaged any link between betting and sport.
This was originally rooted in a perception that sportspeople might be incentivized to rig the outcomes of matches if they had a financial interest in, or a wager on, a particular outcome. Some are concerned that big money casino sponsorship simply legitimizes the advances of the wider gambling sector into sports games, and claim that the integrity of the game could be undermined.
But most of the claims that casinos have changed the NBA irreversibly are focused on gambling harm. Critics point to the fact that gambling adverts and logos are now being beamed into the homes of the many children and vulnerable people who enjoy the NBA: the fact that the NBA – which is a relatively trusted institution and many people’s preferred provider of fun activities – is linked with these firms, offers a veneer of legitimacy and this might be leading them to head online or to their phones to try it out.
No: life in the NBA goes on
It’s important to recognize, however, that for many viewers of NBA games, nothing has really changed – or at least, not to any great extent. Advertisements anywhere for live casino games and others work on a subtle basis, when they work at all: few people remember the adverts they see. As a consequence, few people are even particularly cognizant of the fact that casino sponsorship is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the sport. It can be argued whether or not this is a good thing, and whether or not it’s an example of subtlety or of manipulation.
But it also speaks to an experience that many people have: their favorite game is continuing, and debates about casino sponsorship are just distractions. For many, the NBA will continue to be an exciting and gripping game, no matter who sponsors it.
And it’s also useful to take a look at what the casinos and the NBA themselves have to say. From their perspective, it’s been a good thing – not least because it has, perhaps paradoxically, led to better regulation. While it’s clearly in their interests to make that claim, there’s also some truth in it. When the NBA struck up its now-famous (or infamous) partnership with MGM, for example, it said it would make an extra effort to ensure that corruption was tackled. Time will tell, of course, whether any NBA betting scandals do come out – but as it stands, the attempts by the NBA to combat corrupt betting within teams seems to be holding.
In short, casinos and big money have clearly had something of an impact on the operation of the NBA. Since their involvement in the sport was legalized, it’s become clear to the bosses of these organizations that there’s significant money to be made by participating in sponsorship deals. Whether or not the deals will have a long-term significance, however, remains to be seen.