Is The NFL Really Coming Around On Sports Betting?

Written By Juan Carlos Blanco on April 4, 2018

Supreme Court cases inherently have the potential to bring about seismic change in whatever area of society or business they pertain to. However, those shifts typically come after the SCOTUS reaches a decision.

In the case of Murphy vs. NCAA, the fact they even decided to take up the case – and the manner in which oral arguments seemed to play out in New Jersey’s favor back in December — has already moved a previously stagnant needle a substantial amount.

Murphy vs. NCAA has people talking

The most overarching influence of Murphy vs. NCAA thus far is the change in the conversation around sports betting. Essentially, all of the major sports leagues are now openly — if somewhat begrudgingly — acknowledging that generational change with respect to legalized wagering.

Admittedly, the NBA was a proverbial pioneer among the major sports leagues. The organization had an open-minded, even supportive position on the push for legalized sports betting. NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s pro-sports betting legalization New York Times op-ed piece in November 2014 was an unprecedented public stance by someone in his position.

However, MLB, the NHL, and particularly, the NFL, are much more reticent to support legalized sports wagering. In fact, they’ve often been dead set against it. There have been notable shifts in that approach since buzz began to build about a possible full repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA).

Some of this change in attitude hasn’t exactly come with a conciliatory approach, however.

For example, the NBA and MLB seemingly saw the light on their dwindling chances of prevailing in Murphy vs. NCAA in January. The groups acknowledged the increased likelihood that exponentially large sums of money would soon be wagered on their games. Realizing they were not getting a cut, they began lobbying for a controversial integrity fee in many states.

NFL giant awakens from a sports betting slumber

Integrity fees remains an ongoing point of contention that is sure to take months, if not years, to settle. Meanwhile, in recent days, the NFL finally re-entered the sports betting conversation. And for a change, commissioner Roger Goodell’s comments don’t include a proclamation that the league is “very much opposed to gambling on sports.”

Instead, Goodell took the podium at the NFL owners’ meetings last week and acknowledged that he and the owners engaged in conversation to ensure “that people understood how the prospects and potential for gambling can change” moving forward, depending on the SCOTUS decision.

Goodell also went on to say that this type of discussion didn’t constitute “new work” for the league office or owners. And, that they’d been focused on the topic for “several years.” Yet this type of chatter from the NFL is unprecedented to the ears of the general public.

No hint of integrity fee — yet

Goodell uttered the word “integrity” on several occasions during his press conference. But, it was in the context of how the legitimacy of its contests must continue to be of utmost priority in the future legalized sports betting environment. Tellingly, the dreaded “fee” never followed it.

In other words, the NFL, at least for the moment, has given no overt indication it plans to lobby in favor of an integrity fee.

Let’s agree to put a pin in that one, though. After all, an anonymous NFL owner was recently quoted in a Wall Street Journal piece with the rhetorical (and foreboding) statement:

“Why would we let other people have all the benefit of something we’re creating?”

NFL has long benefitted from sports betting

It’s difficult to say whether the NFL will eventually obtain a wagering royalty. Yet they’ve been indirectly profiting from real-money gaming on their product for decades.

Examples from just the past several months include:

  • Legal Nevada-based wagering on the Super Bowl. Nevada sports books’ handle on the event increased for three consecutive years. It peaked at an all-time high of nearly $138.5 million for this year’s Eagles-Pats Super Bowl.
  • US citizens wagered an estimated $4.6 billion on the game with illegal offshore sportsbooks.
  • A total of 22 NFL teams have individual partnership agreements with daily fantasy heavyweights DraftKings and FanDuel
  • Just this past season, DraftKings users typically put between $25 million and $38 million in play on a given NFL week. The range for FanDuel fell between $14 million and $22 million. Those types of dollars undeniably equal many more eyeballs on the product, a fact the NFL ultimately profits from.

Furthermore, the fact one of the NFL’s signature franchises, the Raiders, will call Las Vegas home beginning in 2019 is no mere footnote. Especially since they’ll play eight dates per season in a stadium in which fans will very likely be able to wager on games through any of the state’s sportsbooks’ mobile apps.

The winds of change are definitely in the air when it comes to the leagues and sports betting. That the NFL is finally beginning to come around – especially when the activity has significantly propped up its popularity for so long – is yet another component of the fascinating pre-decision domino effect of Murphy vs. NCAA .

Photo by dean bertoncelj /

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Juan Carlos Blanco

Juan Carlos Blanco has served as a freelance writer for a wide variety of online publications and websites, with an intensive focus on fantasy sports. An avid daily fantasy sports player himself, he’s provided analysis and comprehensive coverage of the MLB, NBA, NFL and CFL, while also reporting on news and developments in the daily fantasy sports and online gaming industries.

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