Photography: Camera l’Agenzia/Alamy
The NRL is on the verge of cementing a long-term strategy to cash in on “an absolute revolution” in online sports betting in the US, which could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcast fees, sponsorships and gaming revenue.
NRL executives are hoping to host two first round matches in Las Vegas next year and will travel to the gambling center next month to continue negotiations and planning with more stakeholders ahead of any formal announcements.
Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys has been vocal about wanting to tap into the burgeoning US sports betting market since he took office in 2019, a year after the US Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on the sector.
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“Like it or hate it, V’Landys is all about the dollar,” said Colin Smith, of consultancy Global Media and Sports.
Smith said the US was experiencing “an absolute revolution” in sports betting with the legal market now worth around A$20bn (A$30bn) a year, despite being only five years old. He said it was a smart deal for the NRL to establish a presence in the US.
“I can’t say exactly how they will sign the deal, but they will get a share of the sports betting and have exclusivity options with broadcasters and gambling companies,” Smith said. “They might even get exclusive sponsorships.”
“This is really long-term thinking. Americans may be interested in following the NRL and having more games over there. The closest thing to the NFL would be the NRL.
Overseas expansion is being supported by many of Australia’s largest sports gambling companies, even though they would not directly benefit from it. International bets cannot be placed with Australian bookmakers and different time zones can reduce betting volume.
Jason Bourne, a professor at the Miami University Institute on Responsible Gaming, said the NRL’s primary motivation was likely “the very lucrative television, advertising, and endorsement markets.”
“Although legal sports gambling is relatively new in the United States, it is a very large and rapidly growing market of tens of billions of [US] dollars,” Bourne said.
PAC Capital’s chief investment officer Clayton Larcombe, who invests in the esports and gaming sectors, said many US gambling companies are spending big money on sponsorships and would be eager to associate themselves with the Australian leagues.
“Many of the big gambling companies in the US are finding it very difficult to get a gambling license in Australia, which is a very profitable nation for gambling,” Larcombe said. “Imagine if they could get their mark on one of our teams? It’s very profitable.
The director of the Washington DC-based advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling & Campaign for Gambling-Free Kids, Les Bernal, agreed that the NRL could make money from gambling in the United States.
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“One way the NRL would profit from the American people’s gambling losses is by selling NRL statistics from their games to predatory gambling operators,” Bernal said.
“Access to these gaming statistics allows gambling operators to push more extreme and more frequent types of bets, ultimately leading citizens to lose even more of their personal wealth.”
But Bernal didn’t think US gambling companies would partner with the NRL as a step towards building a presence in the Australian market.
“In the eyes of the gambling operators’ customer acquisition strategy, it is now much cheaper to turn US citizens into addicted players, the main source of profits for the gambling industry, because America is an ‘underserved’ market, Bernal said.
The NRL earns tens of millions of dollars in gaming revenue each year, and the Parliamentary Inquiry into Online Gambling appeared to downplay community concerns about the number of betting adverts associated with the sport.
The NRL has been contacted for comment.