As the NFL’s spring meeting starts this week in Atlanta, commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement on a major issue for the league: sports gambling.
The United States Supreme Court’s recent ruling allowed states to decide if they will allow sports gambling. The NFL has resisted any remote association with gambling or Las Vegas (making an exception when Nevada promised $750 million in public money for a new Raiders stadium), so the idea of legalized gambling is a tough one for the league to navigate.
But with some states moving quickly to legalize sports gambling, it’s an issue the NFL can’t put off. Goodell’s statement asked Congress to enact “four core principles” on the issue.
Goodell: ‘No greater priority’ than integrity of the sport
Here is Goodell’s full statement:
As it was for my predecessors, there is no greater priority for me as the Commissioner of the National Football League than protecting the integrity of our sport. Our fans, our players and our coaches deserve to know that we are doing everything possible to ensure no improper influences affect how the game is played on the field. This week’s ruling by the Supreme Court has no effect on that unwavering commitment.
We have spent considerable time planning for the potential of broadly legalized sports gambling and are prepared to address these changes in a thoughtful and comprehensive way, including substantial education and compliance trainings for our clubs, players, employees and partners. These efforts include supporting commonsense legislation that protects our players, coaches and fans and maintains public confidence in our games. We are asking Congress to enact uniform standards for states that choose to legalize sports betting that include, at a minimum, four core principles:
1. There must be substantial consumer protections;
2. Sports leagues can protect our content and intellectual property from those who attempt to steal or misuse it;
3. Fans will have access to official, reliable league data; and
4. Law enforcement will have the resources, monitoring and enforcement tools necessary to protect our fans and penalize bad actors here at home and abroad.
‘No improper influences’
While it makes sense for the NFL to bombard fans with messages that games won’t be fixed, the people most likely to believe that’s a concern don’t understand the landscape.
People already bet on the NFL. Legally, it has happened in Nevada for decades. There’s also a lot of illegal and offshore gambling on sports. Legalizing gambling allows the market to be regulated and to diffuse possible scandals. The Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal in the early 1990s was discovered, in large part, because outlets in Nevada reported unusual betting patterns to authorities. That’s much less likely to happen when most sports gambling is illegal or through offshore sites. And illegal gambling has been going on for a long time and in great volume, whether the league wants to be willfully ignorant of that or not.
Making sports betting legal in the United States makes it easier for authorities to be alerted to any potential gambling-related scandals within the sport. That has always been the case, even if the NFL seemingly wants to take the stance that the Supreme Court’s decision is a danger to the sport.
NFL wants to protect its content
The third point of Goodell’s statement, regarding the protection of “content and intellectual property,” could be laying the groundwork for the NFL to finagle its way into getting a piece of the betting action. That would be an incredibly hypocritical stance given how the NFL has demonized gambling for decades, but the NFL has often thrown morals away for money. It would seem to be a Hail Mary for the NFL to argue that sportsbooks owe it a cut based on content and intellectual property rights, but there’s not a clear path for the NFL to force its way into getting a share of the action, other than currying favor with politicians who will write the laws.
It was also interesting that the NFL promised “access to official, reliable league data.” If that refers to injury reports or secretive decisions on starting lineups, is the league admitting the injury reports weren’t reliable before? It’s hard to tell what other data the league could offer that matters to the issue, but more transparency from the NFL would be a great thing for everyone, even those who won’t bet.
It will be uncomfortable listening to uninformed NFL executives talk about sports gambling, and even more uncomfortable if the NFL does a 180 and attempts to profit on something it has decried as evil for decades. But the league can’t ignore legal gambling any longer.
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