Steve Friess: No, NFL’s New Gambling Policy Is Not That Much Better

Written By Steve Friess on October 5, 2023
Steve Friess State Of Play NFL Gambling Policy Still Lacking

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State of Play is a column that focuses on the trending stories in the casino and gambling space with sharp and clever insight from senior staff writer Steve Friess. Over his 25-year career, Friess has contributed to publications such as Newsweek, Time, New York Times and more.

Like many, I was encouraged to see the headlines about the National Football League adjusting its byzantine, irrational and brutal gambling policy. But unlike so many who are desperate to be satisfied with even modest changes, I’m dismayed by everything that did not end up in the update.

Here’s what’s in it:

  • Personnel found to have bet on NFL games will receive at least a one-year suspension and a two-year suspension if the bet is placed on games involving the employee’s own team.
  • Personnel found to have provided inside information to other bettors get a minimum one-year suspension and possibly much longer.
  • Personnel who bet on non-NFL sports from “team facilities” get a two-game suspension on first violation and a six-game suspension for a second violation. A third violation gets the offender suspension without pay for at least one year. Previously, the penalty was a six-game suspension on first offense.
  • Personnel found to have been involved in efforts to fix games or who accept bribes get a lifetime banishment.
  • The commissioner, currently Roger Goodell, gets full say-so on sports betting punishments.

The immediate result is that Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams and Tennessee Titans lineman Nicholas Petit-Frere, who have been out for the first three games of this season because of six-game suspensions, have their penalties reduced and can return to the field this weekend. Free agent Stanley Berryhill is now allowed to participate in all activities, including games, too.

Some of this is fine — if game-fixing didn’t already result in lifetime banishment, it should have — but the revisions still fail to answer some very important questions.

Questions remain about new NFL betting policy

Among those, why are NFL employees permitted to place non-NFL bets but not permitted to place non-NFL bets from “team facilities?” And why are “team facilities” defined so broadly that they even include the privacy of one’s hotel room on the road?

I get that employers can govern people’s behavior on “work time.” But is being an NFL employee a 24/7 job? In virtually all workplaces in the United States and Canada, no matter how rigorous and stressful the job is, people get time off for meals or to sleep or whatever. If I’m a linebacker in my room or on the bus, I’m not doing any linebacking, right?

I have empathy for the players, yes, but this policy reaches into the lives of everybody involved with the team. The Broncos’ uniform manager, say, isn’t allowed to put some money on a Mets game when he’s off work? Why not? Can anyone answer that?

NFL policy invades employees’ privacy

But, also, this confounds me for another reason: What else are NFL employees specifically prohibited from doing?

Can they have sex? Smoke? Drink alcohol? Play video games? Binge “Winning Time”? Watch porn? Make personal phone calls?

If we’re making the argument that an NFL employee is at “work” for every moment of a road trip or a team practice, then the logical conclusion is that every one of those could be reasonably banned for employees of any job as non-work endeavors.

I’m pretty sure NFL employees have sex, smoke, drink, play video games, watch porn, binge “Winning Time,” and make personal phone calls when they’re on the road.

So what is it about an NFL employee placing a bet on a non-NFL game that is the line in the sand?

Are players the only ones caught?

The other thing that I baffle over is how it’s possible that it’s only been players — and Black players specifically — who have violated the policies and incurred punishments?

As I wrote a few weeks ago, the players might be the red herring in all of this because they’re far less capable of altering the outcome of games than, say, the coaching staff. Yet so far as I’ve seen, the NFL has only ever publicly announced betting suspensions for players, not a single one of whom has been white.

Are we to believe these are the only people who have violated the policies? There are thousands of NFL employees.

That makes no sense. Which leads to the next problem here: How does the NFL police this? Are everyone’s devices being monitored? Are sports books or the Internet providers disclosing private information to the league? How does it work?

These policies leave much to be desired

The NFL is right to be concerned about the impact of gambling. It is correct to want to create policies that reduce the prospects that anyone would alter the action on the field in the service of a wager. The NFL is also right to want to prevent even the perception of that.

But these policies don’t do any of that. They broadly attack the location of gambling, which is irrelevant these days with the prevalence of mobile betting and are inconsistent on the topic of what is a permissible or impermissible sports bet.

Everyone wants to give Goodell and his crew a pat on the head for the adjustments they just made that ease sanctions on non-NFL betting. But they can do a lot better.

Each rule and process should have a clear and publicly explained rationale. Why is that such a surprise or so difficult to achieve?

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Photo by John McCoy/AP photo; illustrated by PlayUSA
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess writes the State of Play column for PlayUSA twice a week. He's a veteran gambling-industry reporter who began covering Las Vegas in 1996 and covered the openings of resorts in Asia, Europe, and across the U.S. His bylines have appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, New Republic, Time, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. He, his husband, their children and three Poms live in Ann Arbor.

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