PGA Tour Updates Rules to Allow Gambling Sponsorships

The PGA Tour is set to take its relationship with gambling to the next step. On Tuesday, the PGA Tour announced changes to its policies that will allow players and tournaments to reach sponsorship agreements with casinos and other gambling companies.

The Golf Channel reports the announcement was made during a meeting at the Honda Classic this week.

Under the new policy, players will be able to form partnerships with licensed gambling operators based in the United States or abroad as long as those companies are not focused primarily on sports.

This marks a significant departure from previous sponsorship guidelines that prohibited deals with gambling entities except in limited capacities as explained by the older guidelines:

“Sponsorships by casinos or gambling concerns of any sort, including on-line gaming sites, are not permitted, with the following exception: Sponsorship by a resort that includes a casino is permitted if the sponsorship focuses on non-gambling aspects of the resort. Such sponsorship may not include the word “casino” (e.g., “Foxwoods” or “Foxwoods Resort” is permitted; “Foxwoods Resort and Casino” is not) or any graphic or verbal depiction of gambling (e.g., cards or dice) in any identifier on the player’s clothing or equipment or in any advertising. All sponsorships with resorts that include casinos or gambling concerns require prior approval of PGA TOUR.”

That policy will now change to allow players to partner openly with casinos and gambling websites. PGA Tour Vice President David Miller put it this way in an announcement published Tuesday:

“Sponsorship relationships with casinos and daily fantasy sports companies will generally be permitted. Any relationship must promote responsible gaming and be consistent with the TOUR’s integrity efforts.”

The one major restriction moving forward will be gambling sites that focus primarily on sports betting. PGA Tour officials used examples of DraftKings and FanDuel as acceptable partners due to their main business being fantasy sports, and then pointed to Bet365 and William Hill as unacceptable due to their focus on sports betting.

However, sports-oriented companies such as Bet365 and William Hill may still seek partnerships outside the US market.

Andy Levinson of the PGA Tour told the Action Network this week the Tour is ready to take advantage of new opportunities provided by last year’s Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal sports betting ban.

He also spoke to integrity concerns, making the case that partnerships with gambling companies could actually reduce integrity risks to the sport. Here’s what he told the Action Network:

“We feel that being partners with the companies that are operating sports betting will actually benefit our sport from an integrity perspective, because we will be ensuring that there is a transparent sharing of information. If they see an issue, they’re going to tell us about it; they’re not just going to tell their state regulator, they’re going to have an obligation to tell us.”

PGA’s existing sponsors likely groaned upon hearing the news even if it wasn’t particularly surprising. Sponsoring golfers is already an expensive business, and gambling companies are known to hold back little when it comes to ad spend.

Sports apparel companies such as Titleist and Nike already spend good money sponsoring players across the league even without an influx of gambling companies that will be keen to hit the valuable golf fan demographic.

To put some perspective on that, an anonymous sports agent spoke with last year and revealed some of the numbers behind existing partnerships with traditional golf partners. According to the agent, a hat sponsorship for a top-125 player can go for anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 a year.

Add to that deals for t-shirts, clubs, shoes and even the brand of golf ball used, and golf’s top players can earn north of $2 million a year in branding deals alone – and that’s just for one golfer. Now add well-funded gambling companies to the mix and wait for the financials behind those deals to balloon.

PGA Well-Prepared for Legal Sports Betting Opportunities

This week’s change in sponsorship rules is just the latest move the PGA has taken to embrace legal sports betting, even if carefully-worded policies tiptoe all around embracing “sports betting” outright.

Even before the Supreme Court issued its decision last year, PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan endorsed sports betting legalization. He said at the time the PGA Tour would be able to protect the integrity of the game more effectively by bringing sports betting out of the shadows while also taking advantage of new economic opportunities provided by legalization.

The Supreme Court issued its decision just a month later and the PGA wasted little time positioning itself to take advantage of the opportunity.

In November, the PGA Tour announced a partnership with IMG Arena to distribute PGA data collected by through its innovative ShotLink data generation technology. With ShotLink providing real time data on a range of statistics ranging from driving distance to ball spin, IMG Arena can package that information and sell it to golf betting sites at a premium.

Going back even further, the PGA was already making moves in preparation for legal sports betting in the USA. Back in September 2017, the PGA Tour partnered with Genius Sports to establish an integrity monitoring and education system designed to keep the game free of betting-related corruption.

The deal includes leveraging Genius Sports to monitor betting lines around the world and comparing them to action on the course in order to identify suspicious betting patterns. Additionally, Genius Sports has developed a learning platform the PGA Tour now uses as a part of mandatory educational obligations for players, caddies, officials and tournament organizers to highlight the risks and consequences of corruption.

This week, David Miller said these efforts are all a part of the league’s greater vision to engage fans in a deeper way than ever before:

“We want to develop partnerships in the gaming and fantasy industry that drive fan engagement – that provide our fans a deeper way to enjoy golf. We expect these partnerships will help create new golf gaming products that will enhance the in-venue and at-home fan experience.”