Here is what we know about the NFL and gambling:
- The NFL is okay with having a team in Las Vegas, the cradle of US gambling, which is in the only state where sports betting is legal.
- The league — through Commissioner Roger Goodell — says it is not a proponent of legal sports betting. It says (at least publicly) that its presence threatens the integrity of the game.
The juxtaposition of these two facts is certainly strange. The NFL is really making no attempt to reconcile it, either, at least so far. How can you put a team in Vegas if you say the thing that goes on there — sports betting — is bad for business?
(The answer of course, is complicated. Much of the NFL might even be pro-sports betting, privately. But the real reason the Raiders are leaving Oakland for Vegas revolves mostly around money.)
The NFL, in reality, has always been all over the map on gambling.
The NFL wouldn’t let a player attend a fantasy sports event in Las Vegas
It was less than two years ago that an active, prominent quarterback was not allowed to appear at a fantasy sports convention.
In June of 2015, the NFL moved to stop Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo from appearing at the National Fantasy Football Convention in Vegas.
More from ESPN at the time:
The league recently contacted the NFL Players Association about the event to remind the players of a long-standing league policy that “players and NFL personnel may not participate in promotional activities or other appearances in connection with events that are held at or sponsored by casinos.”
Mind you, this wasn’t in a casino. This was the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Granted, that facility is owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.
But going from stopping players from appearing at fantasy event in Las Vegas that is only tangentially related to casinos, to an NFL team in Las Vegas, in the course of two years is quite the about-face.
The NFL has stopped players from attending a charity event in a casino
The weirdest of the NFL stances of gambling has to be this story from 2016, in which the NFL wouldn’t let its players attend a charity event at a casino. From Legal Sports Report at the time:
According to the lawsuit, which was obtained by Legal Sports Report, the non-profit corporation Strikes for Kids was pressured by NFL Senior Labor Relations Counsel Brooke Gardiner last June to relocate its Second Annual Las Vegas All-Star Classic charity event.
The suit says that Gardiner told Strikes for Kids that if it didn’t relocate the event, which was slated to be held at a large bowling alley on the property of the Sunset Station Casino, that the 25 NFL players who were scheduled to attend would not be able to attend.
The NFL, less than a year ago, was so scared of casinos that it wouldn’t let its players go inside a bowling alley in a casino. Less than a year later, an entire team is going to be within spitting distance of the Las Vegas Strip. Wrap your head around that one.
The NFL has relationships with casinos already
Before, that, however, the NFL gave the go-ahead for teams to accept limited ads related to state-licensed casinos. There’s also a long-term agreement between the MGM Grand Detroit and the Detroit Lions. A luxury lounge, called the MGM Grand Detroit Tunnel Club, is in the stadium.
Simply put, the NFL sometimes holds casinos at arm’s length, and other times moves the goal posts. One of the bright lines drawn appears to be at team or stadium ownership by a casino interest.
Beyond that, many of the NFL’s teams play their games close to a casino already. (However, none of those casinos have sports betting, since Nevada is the only state with single-game wagering.)
The NFL is heavily involved in daily fantasy sports
With the backdrop of the Romo fiasco, the NFL has drawn a line on what it thinks is gambling and not (once again, at least publicly). Sports betting/other gambling = bad. Daily fantasy sports, however = good.
Almost all of the NFL teams are aligned with either DraftKings or FanDuel. The NFL does not have equity or an over-arching league deal like other major US pro sports leagues, but it’s clearly still okay with the partnerships. (Interestingly, a prior relationship between the Raiders and DraftKings is no longer active, Legal Sports Report learned.)
At one point, NFL.com even had content focusing on setting lineups at FanDuel.
No matter where you fall on the “DFS is gambling” debate, it’s clear the NFL has made the decision that DFS is just fine.
The NFL holds games in London, where sports betting is prevalent
Perhaps the most interesting development in recent years as it relates to the NFL is the International Series.
Since 2007, the NFL has staged games in London. NFL teams played real games in a country with legal sports betting, and the end of civilized society — and game integrity in the NFL — was not the result.
Of course, that’s no surprise. The UK has had regulated sports betting for some time now, and it’s an ubiquitous part of society there. So much so, there are betting kiosks in soccer stadiums.
The NFL got over its aversion to holding games where sports betting takes place long ago. The difference this time, with the Raiders, is that it’s on its home soil, with a team that will take up residence in a sports-betting city, permanently.
Will that lead to a more consistent — and sensical — approach by the NFL to sports betting in the US? We can only hope so.