The NFL’s Evolving Stance on Sports Betting

The NFL has long maintained an official stance of being opposed to sports betting, but hasn’t had too much to say on the issue beyond being against legalization. While the MLB and NBA have been issuing statements and mixing it up with state legislatures over the last few months, the NFL has taken a more passive role.

This is surprising considering the NFL is the league that will probably be impacted the most if sports betting is legalized in the USA. In Nevada, for example, football still generates more betting action than any other sport. Last year, total football betting handle in Nevada reached $1.7 billion while basketball attracted $1.4 billion and baseball attracted $1.1 billion.

Football is still the number one sport in Nevada despite holding just a fraction of the games compared to the other two big sports, yet the NFL has been noticeably reluctant to acknowledge sports betting like the other leagues have.

Unlike the MLB and NBA, the NFL has opted not to provide input to lawmakers who have been busy drafting up sports betting legalization laws in anticipation of the Supreme Court striking down PASPA (the federal law that prohibits most states from legalizing sports betting).

NFL Readying Itself for Sports Betting

Now, the NFL could be shifting its stance on sports betting and preparing to take action after years of inactivity. An interesting report by Brett Smiley at SportsHandle.com explains that sports betting was a topic of discussion at the recent annual owners meeting, and that we can start to get a grasp of what the league actually thinks about sports betting based on accounts from reporters and attendees.

That post covers a lot of ground and even gets into revenue numbers, but two things stand out most prominently for me. First, SportsHandle.com noticed that when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked what the owners learned about betting at the meeting, Goodell responded that the NFL and owners discussed “prospects and potential” as well as protecting the integrity of the sport.

That’s an important point because the NFL has so far only discussed the negatives associated with legal sports betting, at least in public. It sounds as though now the NFL is starting to take the possibility of legalization more seriously and is considering “prospects and potential” (a.k.a. how to profit off) of sports betting.

It’s still a mystery how the NFL sees itself profiting off legal sports betting, but SportsHandle.com discusses some of the possibilities such as joining the NBA and MLB in asking for an integrity fee, licensing data rights to sportsbooks and entering into sponsorship deals with betting operators.

In any case, that is a significant shift in stance from the NFL being firmly opposed to looking at “prospects and potential.” The NFL may not have wanted sports betting, but the league clearly plans to make the best of it if legalization does happen.

NFL to support integrity fee?

Although the NFL will certainly be exploring all kinds of ways to make money off legal sports betting, the integrity fee seems particularly likely to be something the NFL targets. SportsHandle.com noted that a team owner who didn’t want to be identified recently made comments in an interview to the effect of why would we let other people just make money off our product?

That suggestion points right at the integrity fee as being something the NFL is seriously considering. NBA General Counsel Dan Spillane has made that exact argument in the past, saying that “sports betting is built on our games.” The NBA has at times defended the integrity fee either as a necessary evil to help the league bear the costs of monitoring the sport or as a royalty they’re owed for hosting these games.

The NFL hasn’t taken a side on the whole integrity fee debate, but that just might change now that the league and owners are considering ways to make money off sports betting. it’s possible the NFL has been content for now letting the NBA and MLB take the heat for lobbying in favor of the deeply unpopular integrity fee concept.

But as the Supreme Court decision draws near, the NFL will have to start picking sides eventually. States are already getting ahead of the game by passing sports betting legislation and others will surely follow suit if the Supreme Court rules in favor of New Jersey this year.

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