A new sponsorship deal between NHL Seattle, the Oak View Group (OVG) and the Muckleshoot Casino holds intriguing potential for all sides as state lawmakers push to legalize some sports gaming locally.
Team and Muckleshoot representatives gathered Wednesday at the site of the $930 million KeyArena rebuild to formally announce the deal and partake in a traditional land-blessing ceremony to signify the region’s tribal heritage. Auburn-based Muckleshoot becomes the official casino of the NHL team and at the OVG-operated arena, where it will have a luxury suite, be the named sponsor of all power plays during hockey games and also have signage advertising its expanded gaming and resort amenities.
Conrad Granito, general manager of the casino, said the arrangement will help inform sports fans and concert-goers about its ongoing resort property expansion — including a new events center and 400-room hotel — with a projected completion date aligned with KeyArena’s planned reopening in mid-2021.
But Granito, who expects the expansion to generate a 10% to 20% hike in the casino’s 12,000 to 15,000 daily customers, agreed the NHL Seattle partnership could facilitate a future sports-betting arrangement.
“I think the partnership is one where you see a lot of tribes and gaming entities have partnerships either directly with teams or directly with leagues,’’ Granito said. “So, I think that tie-in just becomes a natural as we move forward with this.
“So clearly, with the NHL, our relationship just helps solidify that, and our position within the sports-betting network that we project is going to be here in Washington.’’
Muckleshoot also plans a separate deal — though more on the tribal side than its money-making casino arm — with the Seahawks to be announced next week. The Seahawks already have a sponsorship agreement with the Snoqualmie Casino allowing use of the team’s logo for promotions, while the Mariners have one with Emerald Queen Casino to sponsor its pocket schedule and assorted merchandise.
Where the Muckleshoot deal differs is in sheer scope and the potential for future gains on the gaming side for the new NHL team in a sport where national television revenue isn’t as big as for other major professional leagues. While sports gaming represents only a fraction of the gambling that occurs nationwide, the American Gaming Association estimates the NHL could reap revenue gains of $216 million annually from it — about a third of its current national TV intake.
The NHL last year signed a partnership with MGM Resorts International allowing the gaming giant access to proprietary puck-and-player-tracking data the league began collecting this season. That data can be used to help oddsmakers in efforts to be more accurate as well as in the setting of various proposition bets.
Washington has some of the nation’s strictest anti-gaming laws, and sports betting here is illegal. But amid a nationwide push to legalize sports betting in numerous states, a bill was sponsored in the state legislature last winter by Majority Caucus Chair Eric Pettigrew (D) and seven others calling for professional and college sports gambling to be allowed within tribal gaming facilities.
House Bill 1975 also calls for the legalization of online sports gaming within those tribal facilities. Washington remains the only state where any form of internet gambling is a Class C felony.
The bill was the only one of three pro-gambling efforts approved by a House committee last spring before stalling ahead of a vote. But Pettigrew, who last month was hired by NHL Seattle as a community ambassador and director of suites operations, has vowed to keep pushing and hopes the bill passes by next year.
NHL Seattle vice president (corporate partnerships) Jeff Webster said the timing of the Muckleshoot expansion with the KeyArena rebuild was fortuitous.
“It’s a wonderful joining of forces, given that we’re doubling the square footage of our arena at the same time,” Webster said. “So, we have a shared vision.’’
But whether that vision ultimately extends to sports gaming, he added, is up to state lawmakers.
“They’re keeping a close eye on it,’’ he said of the tribe. “And we certainly will as well. We’ll wait to see how things unfold with the state of Washington and perhaps have those discussions at a later date if it comes to that.’’