[toc]It would be difficult for the NFL to turn its stance on gambling into more of a dumpster fire.
But the level of hypocrisy from the NFL got ratcheted up nearly to maximum with a report from Deadspin on New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his interest in casinos that have sports betting. The news comes soon after the NFL owners — Kraft included — voted to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.
Kraft and casinos
Deadspin contributor Bart Hubbuch wrote about his reporting on Kraft’s interest and board position at Apollo Global Management.
Here’s the heart of the matter from Deadspin:
For the last three years, Kraft has held a spot on the board of directors of Manhattan private-equity behemoth Apollo Global Management. Among Apollo’s investments is one it made in 2008, when it teamed up with another private-equity outfit, TPG Capital, to buy a controlling 60 percent stake in Caesars.
Apollo agreed to eventually give up much of that stake as part of a messy bankruptcy fight that’s ongoing. But even after that is finally resolved later this year, Apollo will still share a 16 percent investment in Caesars Entertainment, and will possess what Apollo describes as “significant” investments in the powerhouse British-based bookmaker Ladbrokes (which takes NFL action) and in American Gaming Systems, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of slot machines and other casino games.
What the NFL says on gambling
The NFL, like any pro sports league, has rules that oversee behavior related to gambling.
Hubbuch posits that it appears Kraft is violating NFL policy on gambling, via this passage:
NFL employees may own interests in publicly-traded enterprises where less than one-third of the enterprise’s gross revenues or operating profit in any of the last three years is attributable to gambling-related operations, so long as the NFL employee does not own more than 5 percent of the company’s stock and does not serve as an officer or director of the company.
That last part is the kicker, as Apollo makes some money from gambling and Kraft sits on its board.
Apollo, of course, is a company that has diverse interests. In the grand scheme of things, who cares if Kraft has interest in casinos via Apollo? I certainly don’t, at least as a practical matter as it relates to the NFL and his ownership of a team.
The problem is how the NFL enforces its gambling policy for the rest of the NFL.
The silliness that is NFL gambling policy
Kraft owns interest in a company that makes money from gambling and sports betting, possibly in violation of league rules. In reality, those rules are dumb. Kraft’s investment shouldn’t be a big deal.
Here are some things that also shouldn’t have been a big deal, on the player side of things:
- The NFL will reportedly fine players taking part in an arm-wrestling event at a casino.
- Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo couldn’t attend a fantasy sports convention in Las Vegas. This wasn’t even at a casino.
- The NFL has stopped players from attending a charity event at a bowling alley inside a casino.
Is anyone really getting up in arms about players taking part in any of this? Not really. But the NFL double-standard on gambling is extremely clear when it comes to what it lets its players do and what its owners do, whether it is Kraft’s investment or moving a team to the only place where legal sports betting takes place in the US.
Attorney Daniel Wallach just wrote extensively about the idea that the NFL would have a hard time to proving “irreparable harm” from sports betting, and this is just more weight on the scale.
The NFL’s uneven handling of gambling policy is hardly surprising. Just remember it, however, the next time Commissioner Roger Goodell tells us sports betting threatens the integrity of his league.