The NFL’s Sports Betting Stance Sticks Out Like A Sore Thumb

Posted on May 11, 2017
Written By on May 11, 2017

[toc]Once upon a time, all the US professional sports leagues were on the same page when it came to sports betting.

That’s how we ended up with the federal sports betting ban, PASPA.

Today, it’s evident that the NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL aren’t necessarily on the same page anymore. But nowhere is that more evident than the NFL holding onto its public opposition to legal sports betting.

And it’s becoming increasingly clear that it is the oddball in the group.

Where the leagues stand now on sports betting

All of the above leagues continue to be plaintiffs in the ongoing New Jersey sports betting case, along with the NCAA. They have been trying to stop a NJ law that would allow for what amounts to unregulated sports betting.

But two of the four leagues — the NBA and Major League Baseball — seem to agree that maybe PASPA isn’t the best idea anymore.

The NHL is more quiet on its stance on sports betting. But it was the first of the leagues to put a franchise in Las Vegas; the presence of Nevada sports betting didn’t deter it. It is also allowing the new team to have deals with casinos that have sportsbooks.

“It is a slow, incremental process, but certain US-based pro sports leagues are now realizing that PASPA’s constraints are bad for business,” said Ryan Rodenberg, a professor of sports law analytics at Florida State University.

“As a result, many are softening their historical opposition to the possibility of legal sports wagering. The revealing irony of such shifts is that some of the sports leagues now reversing themselves were the same leagues who pushed for PASPA during Congressional hearings in 1990 and 1991.”

That leaves the NFL. The league is moving the Oakland Raiders to Vegas, but still says it opposes legal and regulated sports betting.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says this is because of concerns for game integrity. That flies in the face of the reality that there is already a huge black market for betting on games, and that transparency and regulation is better for integrity than the status quo.

Will we ever see the NFL change its tune?

While the timeframe on this is unknown, it seems like this will just be a matter of time.

  • We have heard NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred distance themselves from the idea that legal sports betting is the bogeyman. Can Goodell continue to argue with their logic? (The answer, of course, is yes. But the longer and louder the Silver and Manfred say it, the sillier Goodell and the NFL will look.)
  • The NFL is going to Las Vegas. This was unthinkable not long ago. It’s no longer unthinkable that the NFL could also one day become a proponent of regulated sports betting. Some owners have already said anonymously in the media that the league isn’t as against sports betting as its public stance suggests.
  • The move to Vegas is already causing the NFL to parse its gambling policy on more than one front, including casinos’ involvement in the Raiders’ stadium. There’s also New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s board position in a company that has investments in sportsbooks.

The path to legal sports betting for the NFL

So how does the NFL get from point A — opposing legal sports betting to — point B — being OK with it?

The answer is: We’re already on that road.

NFL teams have had various relationships with DraftKings and FanDuel, and it hasn’t backed away from daily fantasy sports even in the wake of problems in the past two years.

The league is also on the record saying sports betting is skill-based. It’s not a huge leap to get to supporting sports betting from this starting point; the league simply needs to move off its “sports betting hurts game integrity” position.

So the stage is set if the NFL wants to join the 21st century on legal sports betting. But when the curtain lifts is still unknown.

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Dustin Gouker

Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.

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