WWE is in talks with state gambling regulators to legalize betting on high-profile matches, according to people familiar with the matter.
WWE is working with the accounting firm EY to secure scripted match results in hopes it will convince regulators there's no chance of results leaking to the public, said the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private. Accounting firms PwC and EY, also known as Ernst & Young, have historically worked with award shows, including the Academy Awards and the Emmys, to keep results a secret.
Betting on the Academy Awards is already legal and available through some sports betting applications, including market leaders FanDuel and DraftKings, although most states don't allow it. WWE executives have cited Oscars betting as a template to convince regulators gambling on scripted matches is safe, the people said.
Still, while Academy Awards voting results are known by a select few before they're announced publicly, they aren't scripted by writers. Even if regulators allow gambling, betting companies would have to decide if they're willing to place odds on WWE matches even if it's legalized. Those discussions have yet to occur at betting firms, according to people familiar with the matter.
A WWE spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for EY couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
WWE is targeting Michigan, Colorado and Indiana as potential states to pursue legalization, two of the people said. According to a Michigan gaming spokesperson, the Michigan Gaming Control Board publishes a Sports Wagering Catalog. When updates to the catalog are approved, the information is shared publicly through the agency's website and with sportsbook operators.
WWE has already registered with the Indiana Gaming Commission, a move related to this initiative, one of the people said.
The Colorado Division of Gaming told CNBC it is not currently considering and has not considered allowing sports betting wagers on WWE matches. A spokesperson noted Colorado currently has a statute prohibiting wagers on events with fixed or predicted outcomes, including the Academy Awards.
If WWE succeeds in its bid to legalize gambling on matches, it could open the door for legalized betting on other guarded, secret scripted events, such as future character deaths in TV series.
Allowing gambling on certain WWE matches would alter how matches are produced – and how storylines are created. In discussions about how gambling on wrestling could work, WWE executives have proposed that scripted results of matches be locked in months ahead of time, according to people familiar with the matter. The wrestlers themselves wouldn't know whether they were winning or losing until shortly before a match takes place, said the people.
For example, the WWE could lock the results of Wrestlemania's main event months ahead of time, based on a scripted storyline that hinged to the winner of January's Royal Rumble. Betting on the match could then take place between the end of the Royal Rumble and up to days or even hours before Wrestlemania, when the wrestlers and others in the show's production would learn the results.
The introduction of legalized gambling could give WWE an increased appeal to a new set of fans while significantly altering creative storylines. Paul Levesque, whose wrestling name is Triple H, took over as head of WWE's creative operations from Vince McMahon in July. McMahon stepped down as WWE chairman and CEO last year amid sexual misconduct allegations but returned to the WWE board in January as executive chairman to prepare the company for a sale process.
WWE is set to meet with potential buyers for the company next month in preparation for first-round bids, two of the people said. There's no assurance a transaction will take place.
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