NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about his league’s stance on sports betting ahead of the Super Bowl and a verdict expected from the US Supreme Court on the federal sports wagering ban this year.
In speaking with ESPN Radio, Goodell’s stance remained much the same as it as historically — that his league is not embracing sports betting. But he did not say that his league actively opposes it, either.
Goodell said his league is primarily concerned with the integrity of the game — the idea that wagering doesn’t impact results — no matter what happens moving forward on the legalization of sports betting.
The comments come as the NBA has said it embraces federal or state-level regulation of sports betting. The NBA has proposed an “integrity fee” — one percent of all sports wagering handle payable to the leagues — in several states.
What Goodell said on sports betting
Goodell spoke on sports gambling while giving an interview to ESPN Radio show Golic and Wingo.
“Where is the relationship or the idea of the separation of the NFL and gambling right now, as we’re going forward?” host Trey Wingo asked.
Most of what Goodell said was the equivalent of a non-answer on what the NFL thinks about the future of sports wagering. But here is what he said:
To me it it’s very clear, which is about the integrity of the game, you don’t want to do anything that’s going to impact negatively on the integrity of our game.
You want to be certain that there are no outside influences on our game and that fans don’t even have any issue with that, they understand, whether there’s a perception or not, that there’s no influence in our game. And that’s something that we stand firmly behind on the integrity of our game.
We see changes going on. Obviously I don’t think ten years ago most people would have looked at having an NFL franchise or an NHL franchise in Las Vegas. Clearly there are changes occurring, the Supreme Court is considering changes potentially in laws with respect to gambling across our country.
And I think we’re going to be prepared as a league to address those, no matter how the Supreme Court comes out, but also how things continue to evolve. I think we have, but we are going to protect the integrity of the game, I assure you of that.
You can listen to his comments here.
What Goodell didn’t say on sports betting
Interestingly, Goodell did not say the league is actively opposed to the legalization of sports gambling, a refrain he’s repeated in recent years. He said when the NFL decided to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas that the league’s position on sports gambling hadn’t changed, despite the fact that sports betting is legal there.
This time around, Goodell certainly had an opportunity to repeat that his league opposes legalization, but he didn’t. That might be in part an acknowledgment that the leagues are going to lose the New Jersey sports betting case in front of the Supreme Court. The court appears likely to rule in favor of New Jersey, perhaps striking down the federal ban — PASPA — entirely.
Of course, the NFL may still oppose legalization, and Goodell simply didn’t say so. If the NFL is not going to actively call for regulation, there’s not much benefit to him saying he opposes it before the Supreme Court rules. Such a stance would be counter-productive given today’s reality, where a variety of states are looking to pass sports betting laws in anticipation of a victory for NJ in SCOTUS.
Goodell’s comments come ahead of Super Bowl
The Super Bowl — this year between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles — is right around the corner. It is the event that Americans bet most heavily, despite the US “ban” on sports betting.
The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans will wager almost $4.8 billion on the game. The vast majority of the bets will take place via offshore sportsbooks operating illegally in the US.
Betting on the NFL is big business, and the league knows it, whether it says so publicly or not. Whether Goodell and the league will ever come around to saying that legal sports wagering is better than the current black market might be a matter of when, not if.