Gambling

Raiders Move To Las Vegas Brings NFL Closer To Accepting Gambling

Ignore what the NFL says, they're on the verge of becoming a pro-gambling league

Gambling
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Mar 28, 2017 at 12:44 PM ET

At the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix on Monday, the Raiders were given the green light to move to Las Vegas, a measure that passed by a near-unanimous vote.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and Raiders owner Mark Davis screwed on their most sympathetic tone at a press conference following the announcement and talked about how sad they were to ditch an adoring fan base. However, one important topic was never brought up: gambling.

For decades, the NFL has attempted to build a firewall between its product and professional gamblers to avoid even a whiff of scandal, even as both profits and popularity soared in no small part due to both legal and illegal wagering, an industry that hauls in somewhere between $150 and $400 billion per year.  

Until Monday’s announcement, NFL referees weren’t permitted to step foot within Las Vegas city limits during the regular season, barring any clear medical and/or familial reasons for doing so. (They’ll still be prohibited from stopping by any Las Vegas sportsbooks.) And as recently as April 2016, the NFL shut down a fantasy football event featuring Tony Romo via rumored threats of fines and suspensions just because it would have taken place in Las Vegas.

Now they’ve got $950 million reasons to backtrack, sort of. Speaking with the MMQB’s Albert Breer last week, Goodell tried to have it both ways.

“We are not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” he said. “We still don’t think it is a positive thing. We want to make sure that the integrity of our game is the primary concern and we do everything possible to protect that. And that people are watching it for the outcome, and they know that it is not being influenced by any outside influences. We are very determined to continue that, and we will; that’s a first priority for us.”

One way in which the NFL could demonstrate where its priorities lie would be to request that games involving the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders be removed from any and all sportsbooks in Las Vegas. There’s still plenty of time to make this decision, given that the first Raiders kickoff won’t take place until 2019 at the earliest, and all the league needs to do is give the various sportsbooks 30 days’ notice. According to ESPN, the Powers That Be are still mulling it over.

An NFL spokesman confirmed to ESPN that the league has not made a request to Nevada Gaming Control, but did not elaborate on whether the league intends to do so in the future. NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman reportedly told MMQB.com’s Albert Breer that the league has not taken up the issue. The NHL is facing the same decision in regard to the Vegas Golden Knights and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Does the presence of the Las Vegas Raiders mean that the NFL will, like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and MLB Commissoner Rob Manfred, move towards accepting or even endorsing legalized gambling?

Vocativ spoke with Daniel Wallach, a prominent sports and gaming law expert, who advised ignoring Goodell’s pressers and instead focusing on the pro-gambling steps that have been taken in recent years.

“The NFL’s public statements have always been belied by its activities in connection with sports betting going back to Daily Fantasy Sports sponsorship deals,” he said, noting both Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft are investors in DraftKings and that the NFL has shared licensed, real-time data with online sports betting companies. Eventually, he said, the league will embrace legalized gambling, whether they want to publicly admit it now or not.

“There’s no turning back for the NFL,” Wallach said. “Just look at their actions, pay less attention to their words.”

As far New Jersey’s ongoing legal battle to declare the U.S. gambling prohibition unconstitutional goes, litigators have been given serious additional ammunition, should the Supreme Court agree to hear the case. 

“The NFL’s move into Las Vegas will undoubtedly be spotlighted,” he said. The NFL’s endorsement of Daily Fantasy Sports, the decision by the NFL to host games in London, and the NBA’s recent All-Star game in Las Vegas, all add to the argument that legalized gambling hasn’t harmed the NFL or other pro sports leagues at all.

“New Jersey has always asserted that the league’s claim of irreparable harm or harm to the integrity of the game has been undermined by the NFL’s actions vis-à-vis gambling,” Wallach said, but should the Raiders thrive in Vegas, it would represent a “quantum leap forward,” for the pro-legalization forces.

Wallach also doubts the NFL will ask Las Vegas sportsbooks to remove Raiders games from their dockets.

“They may view the Las Vegas Raiders as almost like a pilot program for sports betting,” said Wallach. “If regulated and monitored sports betting serves to better protect the integrity of the games than unregulated, unmonitored and illegal sports betting, well then, the Raiders in Vegas provides the perfect test case to prove that theory.”