President Trump Pardons Former San Francisco 49ers Owner Convicted in Casino Bribery Scheme

Posted on: February 18, 2020, 12:06h. 

Last updated on: February 18, 2020, 12:57h.

Several pardons were issued this week by President Donald Trump, with one being afforded to the former owner of the NFL San Francisco 49ers franchise who pleaded guilty in 1998 to bribing an elected official for a casino license.

Trump pardon Edward DeBartolo
Former 49ers owner and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee Eddie DeBartolo Jr. has received a pardon from President Donald Trump. (Image: AP)

Edward DeBartolo Jr., 73, owned the 49ers for 23 years between 1977 through 2000. His father, Edward DeBartolo Sr., purchased the team in 1977 and gave it to him.

Jr.’s ownership of the franchise included five Super Bowl wins that were led by several NFL greats, including Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Steve Young. During DeBartolo’s tenure, the team had 16 playoff appearances and 13 division titles

He’s the main reason why we won so many Super Bowls,” Rice said outside the White House today. “This man, he has done so much in the community, has done so much in NFL football.”

The game’s all-time best wide receiver also credited Trump. “I take my hat off to Donald Trump for what he did,” Rice stated. In addition to the 49ers, DeBartolo Jr. and his father owned the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins until 1991.

Along with DeBartolo, the president commuted the sentence for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who was convicted of soliciting bribes to replace Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat following his presidential election win. The Democratic governor has served eight of his 14-year sentence in a federal prison.

Up a River

In 1991, Louisiana became the fourth state to legalize riverboat casino gambling. A maximum of 15 riverboats, plus one land-based casino in New Orleans, were authorized.

The DeBartolo family made their fortune through commercial real estate, principally shopping malls. But when Louisiana opened the state to gambling, DeBartolo Jr. wanted in.

The billionaire found himself in a world of controversy when he agreed to pay then-Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards (D) $400,000 in cash in exchange for a riverboat casino license. After admitting his guilt in the bribery fraud, DeBartolo was suspended by the NFL for a year and ordered to pay a $1 million fine.

He would cease control of the 49ers in 2000 by giving the franchise to his sister, Denise York. DeBartolo maintains that the NFL did not force him into the decision to walk away from the game.

“The team really wasn’t taken away from me. I think it’s been a misnomer. It did not come down to that. It came down to a decision that had to be made whether or not I wanted the 49ers,” DeBartolo said during his introduction into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Clean Slate

In the aftermath of his conviction, the Louisiana Gaming Control Board revoked DeBartolo’s license and the riverboat casino project on the Red River in Bossier City was terminated.

Today, there are four riverboat casinos in Bossier City – Boomtown, Diamond Jacks, Horseshoe, and Margaritaville – plus the Harrah’s Louisiana Downs racino.

The United States Constitution grants pardon power to the President for convictions under federal law. Trump’s actions mean the gambling fraud guilty plea from DeBartolo will be wiped clean from his record.