Magic Johnson: Evolution of gambling great for NFL, NHL, fans

ByDavid Purdum ESPN logo
Thursday, October 5, 2017

While speaking Thursday at a gaming conference in Las Vegas,Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson said the relationship between sports leagues and the gaming industry is evolving.

Johnson delivered an energetic, 30-minute keynote address at the Global Gaming Expo at Sands Expo and then sat down with American Gaming Association CEO and president Geoff Freeman to discuss the changing landscape in sports, gaming and Las Vegas.

TheVegas Golden Knightsof the NHL open their inaugural season this week as the first major sports league franchise to be located in Las Vegas, which is home to a $4.5 billion legal sports betting market. TheOakland Raidersalso plan to relocate to Las Vegas and could arrive as early as 2019.

"Remember, all the sports leagues were saying, 'We're staying away from Las Vegas. No way.' The whole thing of betting, and this and that," Johnson said Thursday. "They wanted just to stay away from all of that, and now you have two teams coming to this great city. The fans want it. I think it's just great for the NFL. It's great for the NHL. It's great for the fans. So I think the narrative is changing now. The landscape is changing."

In the coming months, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on a case that will impact the future of legal sports betting. A decision is expected sometime in the first half of 2018.

In the meantime, the American Gaming Association, which represents the casino industry, continues to speak to stakeholders, including sports leagues, players unions and members of Congress.

Johnson did not give his direct opinion on legalizing sports betting, but the AGA said it has spoken to other players to get their perspective on the issue.

"You hear a lot of good questions [from players]," Freeman told ESPN. "There's definitely an age variable. There is an older perspective, and there is a younger perspective. The younger perspective is more progressive on this particular issue.

"Maybe we need a group of players who we work with, who become spokespeople for the benefits of a regulated market. ... We've certainly already identified a handful that would be great spokespeople on this topic."