Something big happened yesterday, and though the ramifications have yet to shake out, changes are a-comin’.
The US Supreme Court shot down a federal law prohibiting gambling on sports, ultimately leaving it to the individual states to decide if and how they want sports betting.
This could mean, and will likely mean in places like New Jersey and New York, that you will someday be able to go to your local MMA fights… and bet on them.
That’s huge for a number of reasons. Here’s MMAFighting:
Sports betting currently brings in roughly $5 billion annually to Las Vegas, with an estimated $150 billion in sports betting done illegally every year. It’s easy to see that there is a high demand for gambling on sports and as that becomes legalized across the board, those numbers are likely to rise. As the UFC struggles to find reasons to get people to care about fights and buy pay-per-views, the sudden advent of a legal way for people nationwide to put money down and have a legitimately vested interest in any fight on any card is likely to increase viewership to some degree.
Also, sports franchises have now been given a powerful tool in improving the live experience of fans. As more and better ways of viewing sporting events have continued to crop up over the last decade, live attendance has fallen across the board for sporting events. Now, stadiums and arenas can offer fans easy, hassle-free gambling options on site, incentivizing higher attendance in a way that refurbished arenas, and the raise in ticket prices that go with them, cannot.
This cuts both ways though since Nevada no longer having a monopoly on legalized sports betting, could hurt the state’s status as fight capital of the world. As the UFC is based in Nevada and frequently runs their biggest shows out of the city, including the multi-fight card International Fight Week event every year, there may be less incentive for fans to make a trip to see major UFC events, preferring instead to stay at home and bet on the fights locally. It’s possible the UFC will see an uptick in attendance for their domestic shows while seeing a minor drop off in attendance for their Las Vegas events. Conversely, with Las Vegas possibly taking a hit to their tourism industry as a result of SCOTUS’s decision, the UFC’s ability to offer marquee fights that bring people into the city could give them more sway locally.
The other major concern with legalizing sports betting is the potential for fight fixing. For other major sports in the United States, player salaries already act as a deterrent to fixing outcomes whereas bottom-tier MMA fighters may find it reasonable to attempt to do so – an NBA player making $540K a year is less likely to throw a game than an undercard fighter making $10K to show and another $10K to win. Why fight straight up to only potentially win another 10 grand when instead you can take a dive and make an extra $50K? The UFC has already had some issues with the problem and the increased prevalence of sports betting will only increase the potential for that problem to grow.
Strap in, folks. The sport is about to get weird.