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The WWE is negotiating to legalize betting on its (scripted) matches

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: It may be the night. It may be the biggest night. Get up, Taker, get up. He's still got that damn chair.

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Who could have seen that knockout coming? Well, the writers and performers at WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, that's who. It's no secret that WWE scripts its matches, so are you willing to lay down money on the results? CNBC media reporter Alex Sherman says WWE is looking to get into the betting game, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ALEX SHERMAN: Hi, Ayesha. Happy to be here.

RASCOE: So tell us, you know, who and where and what is going on, according to your reporting, with WWE looking to get into legalized gambling?

SHERMAN: WWE has been working with EY, commonly known as Ernst & Young, a big accounting firm, on securing the results of a sampling of hand-picked matches. This is all sort of hypothetical at this point, but they're looking to the Academy Awards, actually, as their template for why they feel like they might be able to convince regulators and then betting companies to go along with this plan. In a few states in the country today, it is already legal to bet on the Oscars. And, in that case, there is an accounting firm - famously, PricewaterhouseCoopers - that works with the Academy Awards to put its known results under lock and key, sealed away, until the awards show announces the results. So that's not a scripted set of results, yet it is known prior to the event, and gambling is legal on the Oscars.

So the pitch from WWE is that that's actually not really all that different from what we're doing. Yes, we're scripting it, but we can present the scenario to you where a very, very few amount of people will know the answers to this. We'll allow gambling on it for a certain amount of time, then we'll turn the gambling off. Then we will tell the performers and the production crew who's going to win and how the script should go, and then the match will happen. And in the meantime, over the course of weeks or months or whatever it may be, the people that gambled on the match would then win or lose with the results. So that's the pitch. Whether or not this pitch will actually be accepted - still to be determined.

RASCOE: That answered a lot of my questions because I'm thinking - I'm like, well, if the performer or the wrestlers know who's going to win, then wouldn't that be very enticing for them to, you know, kind of tell their cousin or their friend, hey, look, I know I'm going to have to take a dive on this, you can make some money, right?

SHERMAN: And it's not like the reputation of the WWE is so pristine...

RASCOE: (Laughter) No, it's not.

SHERMAN: ...That one might not think that there would be some legitimacy problems with that. So I think you're absolutely right. I think - again, this is according to my reporting - the way that WWE would try to sell this is that they would actually lean into the fact that you could gamble. And maybe they would only choose one match, at least in the beginning. You know, so you could imagine maybe the championship match at WrestleMania, or whatever it may be - that one match would be the gambling match, and WWE would be very public. And they would write it right into the storyline.

And they would say the wrestlers don't know. The production crew doesn't know. You know, the only people that know are - is Vince McMahon, who is the majority owner of WWE, and Paul Levesque, who was known as Triple H, who now runs creative for WWE. So maybe they would say, like, those are the only two people that know in the entire world other than the accountant at Ernst & Young. And, you know, maybe they would dress somebody up that looks like an accountant or something like that and position him. Certainly that wouldn't be beyond what WWE typically does. Now they just need to convince state regulators and the gambling companies themselves to actually do business with them.

RASCOE: But they're asking for this in only a handful of states. What states are those?

SHERMAN: Right. So they've already registered in Indiana. And from what I'm told, they're targeting Michigan and Colorado as two other states that they're looking at. Colorado has already come out and told me that they're not interested in this, so they may be the hardest sell. But they're going to be targeting states that historically are a little bit looser with what they have allowed in terms of gambling.

RASCOE: Now, during conversations like this about big businesses, sometimes, you know, I have to interject to let our audience know if the company we're talking about, you know, has sponsored NPR. And in this case, nope, the WWE is not a sponsor of NPR (laughter).

SHERMAN: That is a shocking development.

RASCOE: So - but thank you so much. That's CNBC's Alex Sherman. Thank you so much for joining us.

SHERMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.

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