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Report: NRL targets Las Vegas doubleheader to kick off 2024 season

Australia’s premier rugby league competition wants to cash in on US sports betting market.

27 April 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • NRL executives due to fly to Vegas in May
  • Decision expected in the next four weeks

The National Rugby League (NRL) wants to kick off its 2024 season with a doubleheader in Las Vegas, according to Australia’s Daily Telegraph.

Australian Rugby League (ARL) Commission chairman Peter V’landys and NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo will reportedly fly to Las Vegas early next month to discuss the plan. The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) adds that a decision will be made in the next four weeks.

The NRL, Australia’s elite rugby league competition, is reportedly keen to cash in on the US sports betting market, which has seen massive growth. According to the American Gaming Association (AGA), sportsbook revenue alone in the States hit a record US$7.5 billion in 2022, up 75 per cent from 2021’s total of US$4.29 billion.

The move would purportedly see the NRL offer interested agencies the opportunity to show live content on their websites and offer in-play betting in exchange for a product fee, which is typically a percentage of turnover or gross profit.

According to The SMH, the NRL now generates around AUS$50 million (US$33.1 million) annually from betting operators in Australia.

No NRL sides have been publicly put forward to play in Las Vegas, though Melbourne Storm’s chairman Matt Trip has said the club would be open to being one of the four to feature in the doubleheader.

The Manly Warringah Sea Eagles’ New York-based owner Scott Penn has also called for his team to host a game in the US, telling The SMH he wants to be “at the front of the queue”.

Another potential team that could head to Las Vegas are the South Sydney Rabbitohs, who played England’s Leeds Rhinos in Jacksonville, Florida in 2008. The club is also part-owned by Hollywood actor Russell Crowe and Rabbitohs chief executive Blake Solly has said the team is “keen to be involved” in another US trip.

The NRL’s goal of tapping the lucrative US betting market, however, could prove divisive as Australian sport faces pressure to reevaluate its relationship with the gambling sector.

A poll by Resolve Strategic last November found that 62 per cent of respondents would choose to ban gambling businesses from sports sponsorships. In addition, Australian Football League (AFL) fans have pushed for a ban on gambling advertising at stadiums and on TV.

The NRL and the AFL, along with other top Australian sporting bodies, have argued that gambling advertising spending helps increase the value of media rights deals and fund grassroots sport. Free TV Australia, the industry body representing Australian free-to-air (FTA) commercial broadcasters, has also rejected calls for extra restrictions, believing free sports coverage could be cut as a result.

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