NHL, MGM sports betting partnership: How new deal will — or won't — impact injury reports

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Gary Bettman (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — On Monday, the NHL announced a multi-year strategic partnership with MGM Resorts International involving sports betting. While the move shifted the NHL perspective on gambling forward, don’t expect details of player injuries to be made public, or names to pop up on daily injury reports, any time soon. 

“Our players tend to play hurt and I’m not sure that we have any interest in changing our reports,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at Monday’s press conference. “We’re comfortable with the way things are because it’s important for the well-being of our players.

“We don’t want them targeted when they’re playing injured and obviously we don’t want them playing too injured because that’s not good for them either.”

Whether or not the mentality that players are targeted is a reality or not – after all, then-Dallas Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock said in January “The players don’t go out and say, ‘He has a broken left pinkie, and we’re going to go after that pinkie. Nobody thinks like that.” – the impact of player injuries on sports betting is a fine line. 

As MGM Resorts Chairman & CEO Jim Murren said at the press conference, “Data is the key…The more data you can have on an individual athlete, on his or her skills, the more connection a fan will have to that athlete and therefore will build the brand equity of that athlete. We believe fully in the wholesome accumulation of data.”

“If I know one player is faster than the other, if I know one expends less energy than the other, if I know one has a faster slap shot than the other, it gives me information that I can bet,” noted Scott Butera, MGM Resorts’ president of interactive gaming. “If I’m betting on who will score the most goals, I have that tool. Ultimately when enough data is collected on that, we’ll be able to actually bet on that data itself. So you could have a bet on which player’s going to have the highest average slap shot throughout the game.”

But should that data include injuries? If you know a player is “questionable” or “doubtful” as the NFL labels its players who are injured, would you select them for your lineup that night? If a player is playing hurt and his injury could impact performance, would it change how you gamble on a game or select your fantasy lineup?

Like the NFL, the NBA requires the identfication of a “specific injury, illness or potential instance of a healthy player resting for any player whose participation in the game may be affected by such injury, illness or rest.” Major League Baseball also lists injuries on their website. The NHL does not.

According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, organizations, the NHL and NHLPA can only disclose “for public relations purposes” the nature of the injury, the prognosis and recovery time and the treatment plan, including surgery. It does not state that the exact injury needs to be detailed. Whether or not the change is coming, as the NHL continues to move forward in the sports landscape, it won’t happen until a new CBA is hammered out in 2022. 

On Monday, Bettman acknowledged, “The world has changed, the way people consume sports is changed” – which is why the NHL joined in this venture with MGM. They have now taken the leap into the sports gambling world, and have become innovators in the industry. 

And the league seems to be taking its plethora of upper-body and lower-body injuries along for the ride.