Remove “sports” from in front of “gambling,” and the league has become far more tolerant of gambling in general. And it may not even be that opposed to sports betting, other than sports betting it can’t control or profit from directly.
The league is still wildly inconsistent in how it deals with gambling and casinos. But here is a look at the way the league now embraces — or at least coexists with — gambling.
The NFL and lotteries
The NFL has allowed logos of its teams to be used in conjunction with state lotteries dating back to 2009.
Just this week, the New England Patriots and owner Robert Kraft were promoting a scratch-off game in New Hampshire. There was also a press release from the Pats on a new ticket in Massachusetts.
Yes, lotteries generate revenue for states — often going to education programs. But they are undoubtedly ways for people to gamble and attempt to win a lot of money. And the NFL is just fine with that.
While they don’t benefit directly from sales of lottery tickets with NFL ties, teams do get licensing fees. As he always like to do, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell drew a line between this and sports betting, back in 2009:
This would purely be scratch-off and chance games. They are not in any way connected to the outcome of our games. That is a critical feature for us.
We’re all very glad that Goodell cleared up that scratch-off tickets don’t affect the outcome of real-world games. However, the NFL also supports and does deals with something that does have a link to actual NFL contests.
Daily fantasy sports
We’re not going to go down the rabbit hole of “is fantasy sports gambling” in this space.
But suffice it to say, it’s doubtful everyone in the league offices or team headquarters believes the narrative that DFS is unquestionably a game of skill. While states are increasingly defining it as such, that doesn’t mean it’s not also a form of gambling.
And, I’m not going to argue that DFS can affect the games. Attempting to fix the outcome of a contest offered in the DFS space would be nearly impossible to do.
The NFL is certainly getting more liberal with fantasy with each passing year. It now offers what amounts to a free-to-play pick’em game under the umbrella of “fantasy.”
That’s a pretty liberal interpretation of “fantasy sports” that certainly looks and feels more like betting on NFL games, without the betting, of course.
The NFL and raffles
Earlier this decade, the NFL did not allow 50-50 charity raffles at its games.
But now a variety of teams in the league offer these games of chance. You can see the prize pool and how much was won right on many teams’ websites.
Yes, like lotteries, a lot of the money goes to a good cause. But it’s also NFL-sanctioned gambling.
The Las Vegas Raiders
I won’t spend too much time on this one, as everyone with a pulse that follows sports knows the NFL is moving the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.
Yes, there are casinos in or near a number of NFL cities already. But those teams already existed before the casinos came about.
Moving a team that is the global capital for gambling — and the only place in the US where you can legally place single-game sports wagers — is yet another sign that the league isn’t that opposed to gambling.
Of course, the NFL has sent more mixed signals about its stance on casinos than just about any other aspect of gambling. For example, it forced a charity event with NFL players to move from one casino to another in Las Vegas. The aforementioned Kraft also owns interest in casinos with sportsbooks.
But there’s also…
Advertising for casinos
Casinos are free to advertise with NFL teams, starting with a change in policy in 2012.
The Detroit Lions, for instance, feature the MGM Grand Detroit Tunnel Club. In the spring, reports came out that the Arizona Cardinals were thinking about selling their stadium’s naming rights to Gila River, which operates tribal gaming in the state.
The bright line between sports betting and everything else
Still, despite the NFL’s willingness to make money off of other forms of gambling, sports betting remains off limits.
Goodell says the league remains opposed to legal sports betting. (That’s despite his revelation earlier this year that the regulated environment for Nevada sports betting “could be beneficial” to game integrity.
The opposition could be a real concern that expanded, regulated sports betting could hurt game integrity, or at least the perception of it. Or, it could be that the NFL hasn’t figured out how to best make money from sports betting, yet.
In any event, recent years have shown the NFL is willing to move the goalposts on acceptable forms of gambling. Whether accepting sports betting is the league’s next step remains to be seen.