The NFL is heading to the only place where sports betting is legal in the US: Nevada. The NFL has always been opposed to sports betting, so that’s a big deal.
But for now, it appears the league’s stance on the future of legal sports betting remains unchanged despite the juxtaposition of having a team in a jurisdiction with legal wagering. And we still don’t know how the NFL will handle the logistics of having a team — the Raiders — in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Raiders are happening
The news today was widely expected: The NFL owners voted to allow the Oakland Raiders to move the franchise to Las Vegas. That tally was nowhere near close; owners voted 31-1 to approve the move.
That has wide repercussions for the league itself, obviously. But it’s also seen as a milestone for sports betting in the US. The NFL — the most opposed of the major US professional sports leagues in recent years to sports betting — has put a team in Las Vegas. That would have been unthinkable as recently as a few years ago.
No one asked NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about sports betting and its implications at a press conference announcing the owners’ vote. But we still have a pretty good idea of what the move means for the NFL’s sports betting stance.
Yes, it’s a sports betting milestone, but…
Here’s what we do know: The move does not mean the NFL, all of a sudden, is a proponent of legal sports betting. More from SI.com’s Monday Morning Quarterback this morning:
“[The NFL] is not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said. “We still don’t think it is a positive thing. We want to make sure that the integrity of our game is the primary concern and we do everything possible to protect that. And that people are watching it for the outcome, and they know that it is not being influenced by any outside influences. We are very determined to continue that, and we will; that’s a first priority for us.
That opinion flies in the face of several other US leagues saying regulated and legal sports betting is probably better for game integrity, led by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.
Not everyone agrees with Goodell, or at least his public stance
Some NFL owners, however, make that stance sound outdated. It is not representative of what all of them think, as a few of them discussed with SI. At least some of them realize that sports betting is already going on in a widespread fashion via illegal, offshore sportsbooks. They realize the NFL would be best served no longer keeping its head in the sand on this issue.
The league, of course, remains a plaintiff in the New Jersey sports betting case. That state is attempting to legalize single-game wagering. There are efforts underway to alter or repeal PASPA. That is the federal law that bans sports betting in most of the US. But it’s not clear how much traction that will have without the NFL on board.
The biggest sign of what the NFL thinks about sports betting will occur if it requests Nevada sportsbooks take all Raiders games off the boards, eventually. That may be awhile — the Raiders are currently slated to play in Oakland for two more seasons, and possibly three. (We also know the NFL will have to change its internal rules on travel to Las Vegas.)
Here’s what we know on that front:
Asked NFL EVP Eric Grubman if there’s a provision that Raiders have to come off the board — “It’s not an issue we’ve taken up as a league.”
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) March 27, 2017
Even if bettors can’t wager on Raiders games, they will be able to bet on NFL games inside an NFL stadium via a variety of casinos that offer mobile sports betting.
If the NFL does ask for a ban on Raiders betting, the move to Vegas is still meaningful. But it would represent more of a moral victory in the path toward legalizing sports betting than a material one.
The AGA and sports betting
The American Gaming Association applauded the move in a statement. But the AGA did not immediately link it to the presence of legal Nevada sports betting. That has been one of the AGA’s signature issues recently.
“We congratulate the Raiders and the National Football League on today’s historic decision to place a team in Las Vegas. The second announcement of a major sports franchise to locate a team in Las Vegas in just the last 12 months demonstrates how far gaming has come, from a niche industry to a $240 billion economic engine that supports 1.7 million jobs in 40 states.
The gaming industry currently partners with professional teams around the country and we look forward to soon doing the same in Nevada. We applaud the many leaders in Las Vegas who have worked tirelessly to make the city the world’s premier tourist, convention and entertainment destination — and a market worthy of an NFL team.”
Although there was this later from the AGA’s CEO, Geoff Freeman:
Casinos currently partner w professional teams around the country. We look forward to soon doing the same in Nevada #Raiders2Vegas
— Bill Miller (@BillMillerAGA) March 27, 2017
Still, the AGA and proponents will latch onto the move as good for sports betting. Which it certainly is.
What’s next for the NFL and sports betting?
Despite not being asked about it today, Goodell will continue to come up against questions that point out that the NFL has a team in Vegas. That team exists in a place with sports betting, which the NFL doesn’t like.
Simply the fact that the Las Vegas Raiders will be a part of the national discussion about sports betting is a welcome development. It should help push the issue forward. It has the potential to alter the trajectory for sports betting in the US.
Are we closer to widespread legal US sports betting than we were yesterday? Definitely. But the NFL’s arrival in Vegas does not automatically mean legalization going to happen in the near future.