When it comes to sports betting in the US, the major professional sports leagues have been the biggest obstacles. Out of the NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL, the latter has stood their ground in opposition of sports betting the longest. Commissioner Roger Goodell has made statements time and time again about how he doesn’t support the legalization of sports betting on the grounds it could harm the integrity of the game. His most recent statements came on ESPN’s Mike & Mike radio show over the NFL Draft weekend in Philadelphia.
Goodell’s argument of integrity is ironic considering the fact the NFL just approved the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas, the American sports betting capital. Nevada is the only state where you can legally bet on sports through licensed brick-and-mortar sportsbooks. You would think that given Goodell’s statements on sports betting, he would want his league to stay away from Las Vegas, not bring a franchise complete with a new state-of-the-art stadium.
During the interview, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg brought up the Raiders and mentioned how other major league commissioners have come out in support of sports betting legalization before posing the question to Goodell. Goodell was guarded in his answer, as per usual, and said while he admits there has been a “change in society” regarding gambling, the NFL would remain opposed to it for the time being. Interestingly enough, he mentioned how the league will have to change its policies from time to time, possibly hinting at a future approval of legalization, but he remains adamant that sports betting will harm the integrity of the game.
What does Goodell mean by the “change in society” towards gambling? Perhaps it is the fact that sports betting is an incredibly lucrative industry, with billions of dollars being wagered annually snd hundreds of millions wagered on the Superbowl alone through licensed offshore means. Nevada regulates their sports betting market and enjoys a nice revenue stream from it—money that goes back into the state’s infrastructure. Sports betting is widely popular abroad, with legalized markets operating in many countries. Of course, all of these international sports betting markets are regulated. Here in the US, Daily Fantasy Sports has seen exponential growth in terms of popularity and activity. Big-name DFS providers DraftKings and FanDuel even have sponsorships with some NFL teams, thus further highlighting the irony and hypocrisy of Goodell’s stance on the matter.
Over the NFL Draft weekend, Nevada sportsbooks had their first ever NFL Draft betting lines offered. These types of prop bets give fans a new way of engaging with the sport and also bring in more money for the sportsbooks. Given the success of the betting lines, it’s likely there will be more prop bets available for future Drafts in the NFL and other major leagues.
Speaking of the other major leagues, the NBA and MLB have made favorable statements about sports betting legalization. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about how he believes sports betting should be regulated. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has opened up about his league’s stance on the issue and how he is opening dialogues with the respective team owners for their input. The NHL also recently brought a franchise to Las Vegas, complicating their position on sports betting. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been on the fence about legalization, but the presence of a league franchise in Vegas could shift momentum in a positive way.
Without a doubt, Goodell has been the stick in the mud. He showed a glimpse of promise in another interview when he was asked about Vegas having betting lines on NFL games. Goodell described the regulated Nevada sports betting environment as “beneficial” and stated how the league would monitor the situation as it unfolds.
Could this mean they’re gearing up for a sports betting market? Could Goodell finally be embracing this “change in society”? One thing is for certain, if the NFL and the rest of the leagues can come to terms with sports betting, fans will be able to enjoy safe, legal and regulated sports gambling on their favorite teams.