NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The chief executive of the NHL's New Jersey Devils and NBA's Philadelphia 76ers doesn't believe the teams will be cast in a bad light by agreeing to a multiyear sponsorship deal with one of the world's leading online poker companies.
Scott O'Neil, who runs the teams and the Prudential Center for groups led by leverage buyout specialist Josh Harris, and Norbert Teufelberger, the chief executive of bwin.party digital entertainment that operates partypoker, announced the historic deal Thursday.
It's the first between major U.S.-based professional teams and an online gambling company, but there were immediate questions about the relationship between sports and online gambling, which isn't seen positively in all circles.
O'Neil called it new territory, and hopes the reward outweighs the risk. The former NBA executive noted that his old employer held its All-Star game in Las Vegas in 2007 and its WNBA All-Star game at Mohgan Sun Casino in Connecticut in July.
"This doesn't seem like we're breaking any taboos," O'Neil said. 'I think for us the most important thing is being with a partner that can really engage our fans in a smart way and someone who understands for those of our fans who do play poker and those that are inclined for gaming whether they come to concerts here or a Sixers' game or a Devils' game they will be treated like a royal flush, if you will."
Partypoker ceased operations in the United States seven year ago after laws were changed, Teufelberger said, adding it has been looking to return for a while.
It has operated in Europe and has partnerships with some of the world's top soccer clubs — Manchester United in England, Real Madrid in Spain and Bayern Munich Germany.
Teufelberger realizes coming back to the United States is a new game.
"We have learned over the many years, with Real Madrid and Manchester and Bayern, and especially here in this country where it's such a controversial topic, that we're not just selling toothpaste," Teufelberger said. "We're selling a product that can be viewed as very problematic. It has to be engaging, it has to be entertaining, but it shouldn't be addictive."
New Jersey authorized Internet gambling last year to give a boost to Atlantic City's struggling casino industry, which has been beset by increasing competition for the past seven years. It began with a five-day trial period on Nov. 21 and launched publicly on Nov. 25.