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NBA's hunt for revenue leads to gambling partnership with MGM Resorts in Las Vegas

Morning broke Wednesday with bargains to be had at the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue. A sign in the window advertised an “END OF SEASON SALE,” and a life-size bobblehead of LeBron James — still in Cleveland Cavaliers wardrobe — was marked down from $22,000 to $13,200. His new Lakers jersey was priced at $110, but his July signing for $153.3 million now ranks as a past transaction in NBA financial annals.

There is no offseason in the hunt for revenue and deals continue to be struck, with NBA commissioner Adam Silver reaching an agreement to partner with MGM Resorts, the world’s largest casino operator.

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Silver has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to preparing for the legalization of professional sports gambling, and now the NBA is the first league in the U.S. to make a sportsbook operator an official partner. Neither side revealed the value of the partnership.

Sitting alongside MGM Resorts chief executive Jim Murren in a second-floor conference room at the St. Regis hotel, Silver announced Tuesday afternoon that his league completed an agreement that locks up MGM as the exclusive official gaming partner of the NBA and WNBA.

With MGM and the league already partners for the annual NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Silver noted that he seized upon his time out West in recent weeks to formalize a path forward with Murren, who owns the WNBA’s Aces, the first professional basketball team in Las Vegas. The Aces play home games at MGM Resorts’ Mandalay Bay Events Center.

“We said, ‘Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to do something historic,’” Silver said. “To us, there was no better partner out there in the gaming business.

Silver added that it was a “leap of faith on both sides” and that the deal was moderate in length. It comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in May to strike down a federal law that effectively banned sports wagering in most states. But Silver had already been taking the long view of the landscape. The commissioner advocated for the legalization and regulation of sports gambling as early as 2014.

MGM’s casinos, as part of the agreement, will have access to official NBA data. MGM will also work with the NBA regarding integrity provisions, namely the detection and prevention of fraud and game-fixing. In addition, MGM will have the right to use NBA and WNBA intellectual property, including marks and team logos.

Silver and Murren each harped on enhancing fan experience in the emerging landscape. Murren made clear that he values data highly.

“This is a partnership of trust,” Murren said. “It has been based on an understanding that this is a new frontier. We have to figure this out together. We have to understand that there are many questions left unanswered, but it has been my commitment at MGM to try and answer those questions.”

Silver cited the breadth of MGM’s holdings and its regulatory experience in Nevada as benefits for the NBA. MGM Resorts will be promoted across the NBA’s digital assets, including NBA TV, nba.com, the NBA App and social media platforms. In turn, the NBA will be promoted across MGM Resorts’ sports betting platforms.

Silver also pointed out that the two sides did not “over-negotiate” the deal. Both the league and its gaming partner recognized that there will be more information to glean as bets are made.

“We all realized that there were certain areas where we just didn’t have enough information, frankly, to keep negotiating to the nth degree,” Silver said. “We were better off saying, in terms of reasonableness and good faith, ‘Let’s see how this business begins to unfold.’”

Kevin Armstrong is a freelance journalist based in New York.

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