By WAYNE PARRY Associated Press
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A major U.S. sports network is getting into the sports betting game.
Fox Sports says it is buying just under 5% of The Stars Group, the parent company of PokerStars, for about $236 million. Both companies will offer real-money sports betting this fall in states where it is legal and they are licensed.
The network has the option to acquire half of the Stars Group's U.S. business after 10 years.
The companies will offer full-blown sports betting under the name Fox Bet in states that have legalized it.
They also will offer a free-to-play game offering cash prizes to users who correctly predict the outcome of sporting events.
The move comes a week before the anniversary of a U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the way for all 50 states to offer legal sports betting should they so desire. Eight states currently do, with dozens of others considering it.
"We are expanding the way we immerse fans in the sports culture they love," said Eric Shanks, CEO and executive producer of Fox Sports. "Digital sports wagering represents a growing market opportunity that allows us to diversify our revenue streams, connect directly with consumers and expand the reach of the Fox Sports brand."
The Stars Group owns or licenses gambling brands, including PokerStars, PokerStars Casino, BetStars, Full Tilt, BetEasy, Sky Bet, Sky Vegas, Sky Casino, Sky Bingo, Sky Poker and Oddschecker.
"We believe this strategic partnership uniquely positions us to build a leading betting business in the U.S., which represents one of the most exciting long-term growth opportunities for our company," said Rafi Ashkenazi, CEO of the Toronto-based Stars Group. "Leveraging our proven media partnership strategy with Sky Sports in the U.K., we are excited to partner with Fox Sports to integrate wagering into sports media and drive customer acquisition and retention in the U.S."
The 25-year deal shows just how lucrative legal sports betting is becoming in the U.S., with professional leagues partnering with gambling companies, technology firms and individual teams to get in on the fast-growing business.
While it's the first time a major broadcast network has directly partnered with a licensed gambling operator in its business, others have dabbled in related waters with gambling-related content or paid fantasy sports offerings.
The two companies will get the use of some of each other's trademarks and rights, and the Stars Group will make minimum annual advertising commitments with the network.