As NJ sports betting continues to expand and explode, one noteworthy casino has stood to the side like a wallflower at the school dance.

Thanks to a recent decision by the NFL Business Ventures Committee, however, Hard Rock Atlantic City may now have the authorization it needs to move a step closer to the sports betting dance floor.

Path cleared for casino sponsorships

According to several reports, the Business Ventures Committee, composed of 10 NFL franchise owners, agreed Monday to allow casinos — including those that operate sportsbooks — to sponsor teams in the league.

That said, casinos will not be allowed to explicitly advertise their sportsbooks with the teams they sponsor. This change would permit teams to feature ads for sponsoring casinos during pregame and postgame shows as well as during preseason games. Though neither the teams nor the casinos can use their partners’ logos in marketing.

Certainly, the future move by the Raiders, from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020, could be considered the catalyst for such discussions. Also under consideration could have been the NBA entering a multi-year deal with MGM Resorts International in July, making MGM the “official gaming partner” of the league.

Notably, however, is Hard Rock’s tie-in with the NFL and any perceived problems with the casino, particularly in Atlantic City, possibly offering legalized sports betting in the Garden State.

Now, however, the path may be cleared for Hard Rock to offer an amenity it has long desired.

Hard Rock wanted NJ sports betting

Since 2016, Hard Rock has owned the naming rights to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium known as Hard Rock Stadium.

As the June 28 opening of Hard Rock Atlantic City neared, casino higher-ups alluded to bringing legalized sports betting to the Boardwalk property.

From Hard Rock president Matt Harkness:

“We’re not opening with sports betting but it’s something we’re taking a very hard look at for the future. Right now, quite frankly, we’re just focused on the opening.”

And from Hard Rock International chief executive Jim Allen, via a New York Times story, just before Hard Rock partnered with bet365 for sports betting:

“As for tapping into sports gambling, Mr. Allen said the Hard Rock was preparing to announce a partnership with a company that would run a sports book in the new casino. He said he expected sports bets to provide a modest boost to the casino’s profits and to draw people in during big events like the Super Bowl.”

NFL stadium deal may have denied wagering

All the while, however, Hard Rock had an 18-year, $250 million naming rights deal with the Dolphins’ stadium. Though the agreement remains confidential, it’s been speculated that specific language exists detailing the authorization of Hard Rock AC offering sports betting.

During Hard Rock’s license hearing in front of the NJ Casino Control Commission in May, Allen hinted at that contract language.

“We have certain restrictions in our agreement in Hard Rock Stadium with the NFL,” Allen said, “but we’ve reviewed those restrictions based upon our confidential agreements with the NFL and the ownership of the Miami Dolphins.

“But, yes, we do think that sports betting would be great and tremendous for New Jersey. And the Hard Rock brand anticipates participating in that particular venue within the confines of our specific treatments with the National Football League and the Dolphins and Steve Ross, owner of the related group.”

Now, it seems, Hard Rock may be able to finally participate in the ever-expanding world of NJ sports betting.

Grant Lucas

About

Grant Lucas is a longtime sportswriter who has covered the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. A graduate of Linfield College in McMinnville, Grant has covered games and written features and columns surrounding prep sports, Linfield, and Oregon State athletics and the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his career.