The NFL will oppose gambling, until it doesn’t. And it won’t oppose gambling once gambling becomes legal.
The process of legalizing sports wagering has commenced, with the introduction of legislation that would end the federal ban on the expansion of betting. Via ESPN.com, the Gaming Accountability and Modernization Enhancement Act (GAME Act) would repeal a 1992 law that the prohibit the further spread of state-sponsored betting.
Representative Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) sponsored the legislation. He contends that the prevalence of illegal gambling compels an effort to legalize and regulate wagering on sporting events.
“Despite the federal gaming laws in place today, Americans are betting up to $400 billion a year on sporting events alone,” Pallone said in a statement. “It’s time to recognize that the laws are outdated, and the GAME Act will modernize them by increasing transparency, integrity, and consumer protections.”
It likely will be couched as an issue of states rights, with each jurisdiction determining whether to legalize sports betting and the federal government exiting the business of telling states what they can and can’t do. Over time, plenty of states would embrace sports betting. After years or decades, possibly all will.
The NFL has in the past fought aggressively in court the efforts of states like Delaware and New Jersey to circumvent the federal law that prohibits states from legalizing sports betting. It will be interesting to see what the NFL has to say about this effort to scuttle the federal ban — and whether and to what extent the league will devote lobbying dollars to help the new law or to block the new law.
Some believe that, despite the league’s public-facing opposition to gambling, the decision to allow the Raiders to move to Las Vegas means that the NFL eventually will do an about-face as abruptly as it did about Vegas, going in the blink of an eye from loathing it to loving it — and acting as if it never previously had a problem with it.
As the NFL tries to get to $25 billion in annual revenue, and with billions already changing hands illegally every year via betting on the NFL, this ultimately represents a way for the NFL to grabs some of the money on which it has historically missed out. Eventually, the end game will be to create a mechanism by which fans can bet on games through official websites and apps, finally giving the NFL a piece of a pie that it has stubbornly refused to taste.