The gold rush that has accompanied the advent of legal sports betting in the United States has apparently lured the NFL.
Then, today came word that the NFL wants to get in on the party:
NFL officials will tell owners today at league meeting that it will begin process of securing a national casino sponsor. NBA, NHL and MLB already have national deals with gaming company MGM
— Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) December 12, 2018
The NFL has been mostly quiet on the sports gambling front other than lobbying for federal regulation. But that would appear to be close to being over if the NFL is going after a casino partner.
The NBA kicked things off on this front with a deal in July that made MGM Resorts — a company invested in the future of sports betting — its “official gaming partner.”
The NFL is coming around on sports gambling?
The behemoth that is the largest sports league in the US is usually slow to change on anything, and it should be no surprise that the same would be the case for gambling.
The NBA and MLB have both moved quickly to embrace gambling (as long as they agree with the parameters under which it takes place) since the US Supreme Court struck down the federal ban. The NFL, not shockingly, has been slower to react.
The NFL argued for years that legalized sports betting would inflict irreparable harm to the league. That view, of course, is nonsense and becomes even more hypocritical the second it partners with a casino company that is looking to expand in sports gambling. (It already agreed to move the Raiders franchise to Nevada — which was the only state in the US with legal, single-game wagering at the time.
It’s also wild to think that the NFL had (or still has) a policy that doesn’t even allow players to attend nongambling events at a property that is connected to a casino. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the backstory on a case involving former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and a fantasy sports convention.
Deals with casinos are also not entirely foreign to the league. The MGM Grand Detroit has had an advertising relationship with the Detroit Lions, for example. And the Cowboys have a deal in place with WinStar World Casino.
Who will be the NFL’s partner?
The list would seemingly be reasonably small, and the “casino” partner may preclude such a deal with an operator that only does sports betting, companies like William Hill, FanDuel or DraftKings. The baseline parameters for doing a deal with the NFL would likely be:
- The company would have to have a large footprint for casinos;
- An active appetite to get into sports betting in multiple jurisdictions;
- Plenty of money to burn on what would likely be an expensive deal with the NFL.
Given today’s landscape, the odds-on favorite to strike such a deal would be MGM, as it has some deal in place with the NBA, NHL and MLB. FanDuel Sportsbook has also struck a deal with the NHL, but I am skeptical that the NFL would directly do a deal with a sportsbook.
The messaging here might simply be presaging that the NFL wants MGM to do business with it. They saw MGM cut checks to the other leagues, so why not them, too?
Caesars Entertainment also fits the requirements above but has not been nearly as aggressive as MGM on sports wagering. Penn National, Eldorado Resorts and Boyd Gaming also fit the bill of having casinos around the US and a desire to have sports betting in more states.
But it’s not clear a national deal is something any of them would be interested in, given that they all have regional casinos that often have their own identity. (Penn National does have the Hollywood Casino brand that is deployed in a lot of states, and it has a sportsbook open in Pennsylvania.