Whenever the NFL says something about sports betting, everyone takes notice. It’s the most important of the major North American professional leagues, and has at times taken the most hard-line stance against gambling.
So, it’s worth dissecting what a lawyer for the league said on the subject when he spoke at a recent problem gambling event.
An NFL lawyer on sports betting
NFL senior labor relations counsel Brook Gardiner was a part of the National Conference on Problem Gambling held in New York state this week.
Yahoo’s Dan Roberts noted some of Gardiner’s statements at the event.
“And there’s a strong contingent in the league that is focusing on [legalized sports betting], but it is not unanimous. It is not all a rush to legalization.”
“One point to think about that people don’t mention as much, but is very prominent in the league’s discussions is: Would legalized gambling affect the product itself? Are we affecting the game itself or how people view the game, and does the game itself become tangential, and does the money-making enterprise become more important than the game?”
Gardiner’s words were a bit of an eye-opener to those that observe the leagues and their statements on gambling, which are generally few and far between.
Is this something new from the NFL?
It seems interesting that an NFL rep would speak so openly about sports betting.
Reading between the lines on Gardiner’s statements, it appears to be a down-shifting of the NFL’s position regarding sports betting:
- There are some people who matter within the NFL inner-sanctum that want legal sports betting. That hasn’t been reported before. And he indicated there’s at least some discord on the subject, although how contentious it is is unknown.
- There’s no mention here of the “integrity of the game,” which has always been the NFL’s biggest objection to sports betting. Now, if we believe that Gardiner’s words represent the thinking of the league in general, the NFL is at least as worried about whether fans are watching the games for the right reasons.
The latter point may be a matter of debate. It seems likely that integrity is still a major concern for the NFL; however, it’s interesting and noteworthy that the integrity issues were not presented alongside this issue.
So, where is the NFL, exactly?
Good luck figuring that out. The NFL generally is all over the map on its public takes or actions regarding gambling and sports betting:
- The NFL has a seemingly bizarre stance on where its players can attend events that are even tangentially related to casinos.
- The league continues to flirt with the idea of an NFL team in Las Vegas.
- Some have reported that the NFL has “softened” its stance on gambling, or “evolved” on sports betting.
- The NFL (and all the other pro leagues in the US) remain plaintiffs in the New Jersey sports betting case.
Do the latest comments represent a further — or any — “evolution” of what the NFL thinks on sports betting?
Sports betting legalization will take a village
If sports betting is to become legal, someday, in the US, it’s going to take some effort if it is done outside of the courts. Changing a federal law — PASPA — that has been on the books for decades is no easy task.
Right now, the NBA and Commissioner Adam Silver have been largely on an island — at least from pro sports’ perspective — on calling for legal and regulated sports betting.
The American Gaming Association is building its own coalition for lobbying for the legalization of US sports betting. But getting the sports leagues on board — even if not lobbying alongside the AGA specifically — would almost seem like a necessity for a real push.
The NBA has not yet shown its willingness to go it alone, and would likely need to get the NFL, Major League Baseball or the NHL on board.
Will enough people behind the curtain in the NFL eventually see the wisdom in shifting from an unregulated black market for sports betting to a transparent, regulated system? That remains to be seen.
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