The distance between professional sports and legal gambling has diminishedBy Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming ReportsNovember 6, 2018 at 8:00 pmWhen Horseshoe Casino Cleveland opened in 2012, the property took out a large advertisement on the right field wall of nearby Progressive Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians.The message was simply the Horseshoe’s logo.Horseshoe Cleveland sign at Progressive Field (Photo courtesy DiamondHoggers.com)The casino did sponsor a promotion that moved four lucky fans per game from the stadium’s nosebleed section to seats behind home plate, but that was the extent of the relationship.Southern California’s Indian casinos have long advertised with Los Angeles and San Diego sports franchises, and as gaming expanded across the U.S., casino signage started popping up inside stadiums and arenas in other areas.Clearly, professional sports franchises were willing to welcome casino advertising dollars, even as they kept the gambling side at arm’s length.That’s not the case anymore, thanks to May’s 6-to-3 vote by U.S Supreme Court that killed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and allowed states to legalize and regulate sport gambling.Nehme E. Abouzeid, LaunchVegas, LLCHow else do you explain the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys – the so-called “America’s Team” – signing a partnership deal last summer with the Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma?The agreement put the Cowboys’ famous Blue Star logo at the 50-yard line of the largest casino in the Western Hemisphere.Since that announcement broke the dam, partnerships between casinos and professional sports have been coming fast and furious.“Teams see this as a new sponsorship category and are eager to sell access to operators,” explains Las Vegas-based marketing consultant Nehme E. Abouzeid.“Now that certain leagues have openly embraced sports betting, there will be a race among teams and casino operators to strike partnerships to gain critical mass, as the state-by-state rollout has the potential to keep the business very fragmented.”Since the Cowboys-WinStar deal, the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and Horseshoe Casino Baltimore struck a similar arrangement, MGM Resorts International and the NFL’s New York Jets reached a marketing agreement that includes a non-gambling mobile game, and Caesars Entertainment has entered into deals with the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils and the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers.Meanwhile, MGM Resorts has marketing and data-share agreements with both the NHL and NBA. On Monday, daily fantasy sports provider FanDuel – which is itself getting into the sportsbook business – joined forces with the NHL and the Devils for both sports wagering and fantasy sports.Fast and furious doesn’t do justice to this rush by sports leagues and gaming companies to reach deals.Abouzeid, whose consulting firm LaunchVegas LLC works in the sports betting space, said activity has skyrocketed since the Supreme Court’s ruling.“In a partnership (with a) sports team, casinos get a database of pre-qualified customers that they know love sports and competition,” Abouzeid said. “(So) partnerships with prominent sports teams in big media markets will be important.“Getting the imprimatur of being an official partner of the league will help when that first batch of early adopters in each state wants to try out sports betting via an app or window close to an arena.”Five states joined Nevada this summer in regulating sports betting at casinos and racetracks. Pennsylvania could have sports betting in place this month.Some folks credit last year’s inaugural season of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights with proving that legalized sports betting and professional sports could co-exist. The Knights’ home ice at T-Mobile Arena is within walking distance of a half-dozen Las Vegas Strip casinos.Abouzeid, who spent 13 years in marketing positions with Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands Corp., was the Golden Knights’ first chief marketing officer. Sports book operators said hockey wagering increased last season, primarily due to the excitement surrounding the Golden Knights’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final.“All of the leagues and teams are using the phrase ‘fan engagement’ to discuss how sports betting will positively impact the gameday experience,” Abouzeid said. “With the Golden Knights, that concept went from theory to practice.”He credited NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman with loosening league rules so the Knights could sign marketing deals with casino industry sponsors, but they could not advertise sports betting. The move allowed the team to be financially successful from the start.A few years ago – when Abouzeid was with Wynn Resorts – the company had a deal with the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks for signage inside American Airlines Arena and in-game promotions. But there was never a mention of gambling or the casino.Now, legal sports betting is the reason many more teams and leagues will strike marketing deals with the casino industry.Bettman, in announcing the league’s arrangement with FanDuel on Monday, said, “We are continuing to be progressive in our approach to the sports betting landscape, working directly with the industry and focusing on innovative opportunities for fan engagement.”Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.