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That message changed on Tuesday, as Goodell acknowledged the benefits of a regulated, legal sports betting market. Goodell said the league still steadfastly opposes widespread legalization of sports betting, however.
His comments came at the owners meetings in Phoenix, just a day after the owners voted to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.
The news that the NFL was heading to Vegas brought with it this realization: Nevada is the only state in the US where sports betting is allowed to take place.
Most of what Goodell said on Tuesday wasn’t new; it largely rehashed his usual talking points:
But when asked about whether the NFL would ask Nevada regulators to prevent sportsbooks from taking bets, we got something different from Goodell. More from ESPN:
… Goodell said the league isn’t contemplating that option at this point, “in large part because you have the regulatory environment there, which actually could be beneficial in this case.”
“We’ll study it further, but I think at this point in time that’s not our position,” Goodell said in regard to requesting any betting prohibition.
Read that again: Goodell said regulation is “beneficial.” That’s not something he’s ever said about sports betting previously.
During the relocation process for the Raiders, even Goodell spoke about sports betting in slightly more positive terms than usual. Or at least acknowledged sports betting more than he usually does.
Goodell also addressed whether legalized gambling could co-exist with the NFL.
“In fact, it does,” Goodell said. “It’s happening today. It’s sponsored by governments. It exists throughout our world. What we have always said is we need to make sure that there’s a fine line between team sports gambling and the NFL. We want to protect the integrity of our game. And that’s the line we will always do.”
“We’ve always said we were going to maintain the integrity of the game by making sure there was a separation between sports gambling and the NFL,” Goodell said. “We recognize gambling occurs out of the market place.”
Between those comments and yesterday’s, it’s certainly a shift from the usual monotone takes from Goodell that equate sports betting to the bogeyman.
Goodell at least acknowledged that sports betting is a thing that takes place. However, in both sets of comments, he pretty much glossed over the illegal black market, where tens of billions of dollars will be wagered by Americans on the NFL.
Figuring out what the NFL actually thinks about gambling and sports betting is difficult to get a handle on, at least from its actions.
In a vacuum, Goodell and the NFL have a binary choice about sports betting in Nevada:
Here’s the thing: All of this isn’t happening in a vacuum. While the NFL can ask for Raiders games to stay out of the sportsbooks, regulators don’t necessarily have to abide by that request. (Can you imagine Nevada consenting to having no bets on the Super Bowl, if the Raiders were to make to the big game?)
So, Goodell might simply be a pragmatist here, bending to the political reality of having a team in Las Vegas.
Still, Goodell’s words leave wiggle room. If he and the NFL at least see that regulation can be a good thing, might they change their tune, eventually, about the prospects of legal sports betting? That’s the hope and the dream.