NFL Completes U-Turn On Sports Betting As League Prepares To Seek Casino Sponsor

Posted on: December 12, 2018, 12:36h. 

Last updated on: December 12, 2018, 12:36h.

The National Football League (NFL) was never going to pioneer the bond between gaming entities and professional sports leagues, but the realization from the league and its owners that they could no longer ignore the financial benefits of legalized sports betting was always inevitable. That sentiment has apparently set in. The league will begin the search for a national casino sponsor, according to a report in Sports Business Daily.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (right) jokes with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (left) prior to Goodell’s 2018 State of the League Address. Goodell, along with Kraft and the NFL’s other 31 owners, appear ready to embrace a casino sponsorship, according to a Wednesday report in Sports Business Daily. (Photo: Boston Globe)

The news comes out of Wednesday’s owner’s meeting in Irving, Texas. The league will allow itself to align with a casino sponsor but will stop short of actually promoting sports betting. The decision is a departure from the March 2017 rhetoric of league commissioner Roger Goodell, who expressed the NFL’s opposition to legalized sports betting.

“The integrity of our game is number one,” Goodell said. “We will not compromise on that…this is a major risk for us. I think we have to make sure that we continue to stay focused on making sure that everyone has full confidence that what you see on the field is not influenced by any outside factors.”

The change of heart isn’t entirely unexpected. Earlier this year, in September, the NFL signified a new stance on the issue when it gave teams the green-light to seek casino sponsorships. Shortly after that announcement, WinStar World Casino Resort became the first casino to sponsor an NFL team in a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys.

It’s likely not a coincidence that the league’s decision came around the same time as the release of an American Gaming Association (AGA) study that concluded the NFL could be poised to make over an additional $2 billion annually with the advent of sports betting.

That was apparently enough for the NFL to move forward with embracing the new industry, albeit reluctantly. In a September congressional hearing, the league argued that the federal government should implement “uniform standards for states that choose to legalize sports betting.”

What Took So Long?

After the Cowboys, the New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, and Seattle Seahawks have all agreed to sponsorship partnerships with 888, Horseshoe Casino, and Snoqualmie Casino, respectively. As a league, the NFL is the last of the major American professional sports league to embrace companies that operate in the sports betting field.

In contrast, since a federal ban on sports betting was struck down in May, the National Basketball Association (NBA) has taken the lead in embracing the gaming world. In August the league made MGM the official gaming partner of the NBA and WNBA. Since then, it has signed two additional partnerships with companies that operate online sportsbooks. The first, in November, was with Francaise des Jeux (FDJ) to allow FDJ to access league data and promote the NBA at its on-site and online sportsbooks. Then earlier this week, the NBA announced a similar deal with The Stars Group to make the online gaming operator a league partner.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has also been active in securing branding partnerships with gaming companies. Like the NBA, the NHL also made MGM an official gaming partner and has since done the same with FanDuel.

MGM got the trifecta by teaming up with Major League Baseball in late November.

Oakland Sues the Raiders

The news out of Texas isn’t the only off-field headlines circulating around the NFL world.

On Wednesday, the city of Oakland announced that it would sue the NFL’s Raiders for the team’s planned relocation to Las Vegas in 2020. The lawsuit contends that the Raiders are responsible for the cost of $80 million in renovations made to the Oakland Coliseum in the mid-1990s.

Raiders owner Mark Davis has previously stated that he will move the team out of Oakland in 2019, one year before the planned move to Las Vegas, if the city moved forward with the lawsuit. It’s unknown where the Raiders would play games next year if Davis decides to follow through with his threat.

Also on Wednesday, the league announced that the 2020 NFL Draft will be held in Las Vegas.