NFL To Discuss Sports Betting Legalization At Annual Meeting

NFL To Discuss Sports Betting Legalization At Annual Meeting

After years of quibbling about expanded legality for sports betting, recent developments lead us to believe the NFL could be ready to change its stance on the issue – and soon.

Various news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, are reporting that the NFL’s show runners – and that ultimately means the infamously understated NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – are set to address the sports betting question and “brief” team owners sometime this week at the league’s 2018 annual meeting. However, with only one more day left on the schedule at that summit, it increasingly looks like the NFL could be ready to break its comparative silence on sports wagering. Though it remains to be seen just where Goodell and the rest of the league’s bosses will fall in the spectrum of support or opposition to nationwide legalization of sports betting, just the intimation that an announcement on the topic has sent ripples – if not shockwaves – through the sports community.

Goodell and the NFL have historically been adherents of the “mum’s the word” approach to signaling their approval or disapproval for sports betting. Just about all any erstwhile reporter could hope to get from Goodell himself on the subject would be reassurances of the NFL’s commitment to upholding the sport’s integrity. Preserving “the integrity of the game” in today’s milieu is basically code for “we don’t want there to be any game-throwing or fixing going on just because folks are betting on our games.”

Don’t get us wrong, keeping game fixing rackets out of sports as best you can is an understandable, even laudable desire. It’s just that it kind of goes without saying, and in today’s turbulent times the fans, the players, the league backers, advertisers – heck, even the sports betting industry – all deserve to know where the NFL really stands. Goodell will get his chance to do just that, but it will have to be before the end of the conference tomorrow.

What we are less clear about, however, is how the NFL will tackle (sorry) the issue of sports betting when it finally takes a stand. Examples of the various possible outcomes abound among the major sports leagues, professional and collegiate. The NBA and its commish, Adam Silver – perhaps sensing the Supreme Court will repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which restricts sports wagering to Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana (but really only Nevada offers a full menu of betting activities) - unequivocally threw his support behind broader legalization. However, Silver only got on board with the pro-sports betting crowd if lawmakers were some major concessions, and protections, in store for the NBA and Major League Baseball, which is lobbying alongside the NBA to get sports wagering legislation favorable to the leagues passed.

Though it resulted from what must surely be one of the fiercest behind closed doors throw downs, the NBA and the MLB coalesced their thinly veiled “requests” of lawmakers around five broad themes. Principally, the leagues want better bettor monitoring protocols to keep cheating out of the process (a real no-brainer) and most of all an “integrity fee” (basically a tax or a royalty paid to the leagues for “use” of their product) worth 1 percent of betting handle. Other desirable features include the leagues having the ability to restrict access to wagering on certain events (but which ones?), consumer protections for sports bettors (of course) and an inclusion for internet and mobile betting (to increase that all-important handle).

If no one knows where the NFL will eventually settle in the debate on sports betting, then it would foolish to speculate as to what additions or subtractions to the other leagues’ basically agreed-upon criteria for acceptable sports betting legislation pro football might have. However, given Goodell’s own insistent that “integrity” is his league’s primary concern, it might be fair to say that anything involving a kickback like a 1 percent so-called integrity fee would sound pretty good to the NFL. The trouble is, despite the fact that state lawmakers pushing for broader sports wagering legalization are no doubt happy to get the support of the professional leagues, legislators haven’t exactly taken the ball as handed to them and run with it.

Specifically, the state of New York’s current sports betting legalization bill – the as-yet unapproved S. 7900 – cuts that pie in the sky 1 percent integrity fee to .25 percent, or no more than 2 percent of gross revenue, that being the sportsbooks’ leftover income after paying out winnings. S. 7900 also includes proposals for an effective tax rate of 10.5 percent on overall gaming revenue, of which the state would get 8.5 percent. The bill, sponsored and co-authored by Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic, and proposed just a few weeks ago is still awaiting its upcoming New York Senate Finance Committee hearing appearance and is currently without a counterpart bill in the State Assembly.

Basically it’s a case of “anything goes” regarding legal New York sports betting because everything that matters regarding the inevitable conversation about sports betting is still very much up undecided at this time. But there have been steps taken in the Empire State, and if the NFL – which has made its home base in New York since the 1940s – wants to get on-board it would make sense to start there. As for the NBA, MLB and others looking to cash in if PASPA is repealed, they all favor federal action rather than having to go through the trouble of state by state lobbying, but they will take what they can get.

The alternative for the leagues looks worse than it does now. The current situation, which could be upended as soon as April 2 if the Supreme Court makes a call against PASPA’s constitutionality and strikes it from the rolls, is bad for the leagues, with the majority of the millions of American sports bettors taking up the better offer of offshore sportsbook websites rather than hopping a flight to Las Vegas. If PASPA gets repealed but the states have to pay a huge royalty fee to the leagues then the sportsbook operators will pass that cost along to their customers, who will then be even further incentivized to make use of otherwise legal (or extra-legal) overseas sports betting platforms.

Either way, thinks the NFL had better hurry up and make a call as to where it stands on the sports betting issue if it wants to have its concerns addressed in any meaningful way at the federal level. It certainly looks like the Supreme Court is on the verge of making sports betting legal for whatever states wants to regulate it, and the NFL has already wasted enough time by not letting its intentions be known to have very much impact at the state level. NY is poised to join Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even West Virginia to finalize their own sports wagering laws in advance of what they perceive to be an imminent pro-sports betting decision from the highest court in the land, and the NFL – unlike the other leagues - was keeping quiet the whole time.

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