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NFL is all in on gambling

On Behalf of | Feb 14, 2024 | Current Events |

The Kansas City Chiefs’ comeback win of the Super Bowl took place in Las Vegas for the first time. Sin City is also now home to the Raiders football franchise. These are just two examples of a significant shift over a few short years ago by the NFL, which previously took great pains to keep its distance from gambling, fearing that it would taint the integrity of the games. Since the Supreme Court struck down a federal law prohibiting sports gambling outside of Nevada in 2018, the league has quickly and increasingly embraced sports betting. While a vast majority of sports betting is online, the Washington Commanders have on-site betting at its stadium, with other teams likely to follow suit. These developments add up to an estimated $1 billion in previously untapped partnerships in just five years.

Upside: money and relevance

There is certainly an upside — betting motivates fans to pay close attention to the games, making them relevant to a broader swath than just the in-market team. The league also gets payday with a new revenue stream. Fans see the growing relationship in ads during games, sponsorships, and endorsements, and with betting apps like DraftKings, FanDuel, WynnBET, and Caesars Entertainment, which use fantasy football-style systems that allow users to create their teams and bet on stats and outcomes. Since betting platforms are accessible using a smartphone or computer, users have wagered an estimated $115 billion on sports last year, with $1.5 billion on the Super Bowl.

Downside: Some players and employees are collateral damage

While sports gambling is now legal, NFL players and employees cannot bet on games of any kind. The most severe player penalties come from betting on their own team, with lesser penalties for betting on other sports or while on league property. The NFL has the most stringent rules, with different professional sports like Major League Baseball prohibiting players from betting on baseball or illegal gambling.

Ten players were suspended in the 2023 season for violating the rules. Depending upon the infraction, they were suspended for several games, an entire season or indefinitely. Colts players Isaiah Rodgers, Rashod Berry and Demetrius Taylor were suspended indefinitely in 2023, but they can seek reinstatement now that the season is over. Still, those suspended for games or a season are often released, which has historically proven to end their playing career.

The new reality

The league is taking steps to educate players and staff on the rules better, but it seems like mixed signals and confusion will continue as the NFL tries to find a balance amid the sports betting conundrum of this additional power, money and influence that comes from wagering.

Of course, any sports fan can rattle at least a few former stars who got caught gambling, including football hall-of-famers Paul Hornung and Alex Karras. At his Monday morning press conference after the game, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell certainly has turned a page on the evils of betting, announcing that he’d like to bring the Super Bowl back to Las Vegas,