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Goodell Talks Sports Betting Legalization At Team Owners Meeting

Goodell Talks Sports Betting Legalization At Team Owners Meeting

It might not be much to go on, but NFL Commish Roger Goodell did at least finally intimate that his league was looking into the possibilities of sports betting legislation becoming the nationwide reality.

The announcement – as much as it was an announcement - came during the NFL’s 2018 annual meeting, which ran from March 26-28 at the league’s headquarters in New York City. Goodell, flanked by his usual retinue of other officials, conducted a conference (they called it a “briefing”) on sports betting for the presumed benefit of the team owners, but those looking for a huge reversal of the NFL’s longstanding stance against wagering on sports were ultimately disappointed. Truth be told, far from jumping on the pro-sports betting bandwagon alongside his counterparts in the NBA and MLB, both of which have entered into a joint lobbying effort to secure concessions for the pro leagues from states looking to legalize sports wagering, Goodell basically stuck to his timeworn guns

“The number one thing that was endorsed repeatedly by our membership was the integrity of the game,” Goodell told the owners in attendance at the briefing Wednesday morning. “We have to make sure that whatever [legal environment] we’re working in, and some of that may be related to what the Supreme Court decides – some of it might be future legislation – we have to make sure we are operating in an environment where we can protect that integrity of the game.”

Goodell’s allusion to the Supreme Court is of course in reference to the as yet indeterminate outcome of New Jersey’s case to have the highest court in the land strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA). This particular law is the lynchpin of most federal and state level anti-sports betting power, as PASPA forbids every state except Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana from regulating a sports betting industry and in so doing cuts off what could be at the very last a multi-million-dollar revenue stream for many individual state coffers. The Garden State is pinning its hopes on the U.S. Supreme Court Justices deciding to eliminate PASPA on the ground of these States’ Rights issues, and if SCOTUS elects to go down that route with a broad ruling it could make sports betting legal everywhere in the country practically overnight.

Many states – more than two dozen, actually – have already begun preparing for just such a hoped for eventuality by passing their own provisional sports betting laws that would take effect as soon as PASPA was stricken from the federal legal rolls. Even if the Supreme Court’s ruling of “unconstitutional” doesn’t come through, the states and the would-be domestically operated sportsbooks could get their wish anyway courtesy of a PASPA repeal by the Congress. Either way, this has not been something any of the leagues – all of which pushed quite hard 25 years ago when PASPA first came up – have wanted, and it’s only been in the last few years that the NBA changed its collective mind, with the MLB coming on board even more recently.

As for Goodell, his oft trotted out line about “preserving the integrity of the game” doesn’t mean much of substance on the face of it, as there is very little if any proof of organized criminal activity going on in professional sports these days. Still, Goodell should technically be able to rest easy, considering that the MLB and NBA’s approved “blueprint” for their ideal state-level sports betting legislation includes a hefty “integrity fee” worth 1 percent of all handle taken in by sportsbook operators, which amounts to roughly 20 percent of their gross revenues. Though it’s fairly obvious this integrity fee is little more than a payout to the leagues in the form of a royalty on the use of their product, it also includes some legitimately common sense measures too. Among those are irregular betting habit monitoring and careful record keeping practices that are purportedly designed to keep problem gamblers out of trouble and keep pro sports as clean as it can be in terms of game fixing or other rackets.

Though nobody is really sure at this point whether this newly expressed interest in sports betting legislation, however they might turn out or even on a state-by-state or federal basis, it is clear the NFL is at least thinking about these topics. Similarly, there is no indication from Goodell or anybody else at the NFL has decided to join up with the NBA and MLB in their united lobbying efforts, but a recent widely circulated report shows those two leagues have heavy lobbying presences in 11 key states. However, one thing we do know for sure based on Goodell’s sermon to the choir on Wednesday is that the NFL is primarily concerned with regulation aspect of sports betting legalization, rather than the NBA and MLB approach which focuses most of its energies on extracting rents from the sportsbooks.

There are still plenty of questions in need of answering from Goodell, but this week’s annual meeting showed that, when pressed by reporters (and even sometimes by team owners themselves) on the subject of sports betting, the commish hasn’t gone back to decrying the advent of legal wagering on pro sports. It’s worth noting that the league probably does have some kind of feeling about whether or not the Supreme Court is going to let sports betting get outside of Las Vegas: the NFL did authorize moving the Oakland Raiders out to Vegas starting in the 2018 season. We have a hard time believing that the NFL would have done so if they were still planning on opposing against broader legalization for sports betting in other states.

However, LegalGamblingUSA thinks the real benefit for the sports betting public, the states and the stakeholders – those being the gambling operators and the pro leagues themselves – of Goodell’s statement is that it shows the NFL has considered the implications of what seems to be an imminent future where widespread sports wagering is legal. What is surprising, given Goodell’s somewhat middling take on where the leage stands on sports betting regulation, is that, based on what he had to say on the matter, the NFL has been gearing up for this reality for quite some time. Goodell said he didn’t have any insider knowledge of what the Supreme Court was thinking of doing vis a vis a decision for or against upholding PASPA, but he did concede that the NFL was already beginning to take legal sports betting into account today – call it reading the writing on the wall.

“…this isn’t new work (that the NFL is doing on the sports betting question),” he said at a press conference held at the conclusion of the morning meeting. “We’ve been focused on this for several years, of how it’s going to affect the way we operate (in the league).

“We recognize that we’re dealing in an environment here where we don’t know how other issues are going to evolve. But we wanted to make sure our clubs fully understood what we’re doing to make sure we’re prepared for [any eventuality resulting from the Supreme Court’s decision]."