Back in 1976 the NFL filed a lawsuit against the state of Delaware preventing it from continuing its “lottery scheme” which was ultimately dismissed. Then Commissioner Pete Rozelle admitted he had played an illegal college football card shortly after WW2 when he was a Junior College student. He lost.
While that trivial tidbit is more amusing than enlightening it illustrates the inextricable tie between the NFL and gambling throughout the decades. Roger Goodell is just the latest commissioner carrying the torch for his predecessor decrying wagering on his sport as intolerable and a contention that is supported by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) of 1992 which outlaws gambling on all sports except in Las Vegas and a few other outposts including Delaware.
Fast forward to 2015 and New Jersey is in the midst of appealing a decision that stated they would not be allowed to offer sports gambling which has been an enormous disadvantage to their allure as a gambling destination. Sure, the New Jersey boardwalk will never replace the Las Vegas strip in terms of glitz, glamour and gaudiness but without sports gambling it will remain at a huge competitive disadvantage.
Fantasy Could Make NFL Betting a Reality
The NFL’s contention that sports gambling would affect the integrity of the game was always specious at best but their embrace of fantasy sports is the height of outrageous hypocrisy. The fact that a cottage industry in 2011 has turned into a billion-dollar bonanza in 2015 is stunning but what’s truly amazing is that these contests, and the money to fund them, are effectuated through the internet which at first blush seems to fly in the face of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006. Ah, but the fix was already in for fantasy sports and nobody but a few saw it coming. The same law that expressly prohibits gambling businesses, including online poker sites and sportsbooks, from receiving bets over the Internet has a special section permitting money to be wagered on fantasy sports.
The law allows “participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization.”
At the time the bill was written it was considering season long and not daily fantasy leagues. However when a few visionary entrepreneurs exploited the loophole to include daily wagering fests the money came pouring in because it filled a recreational gambling void. The irony of course is that when the NFL and Roger Goodell sniffed out this ancillary revenue source they welcomed it with open arms. It appealed to a youth driven demographic that ensures the popularity of the league for generations to come.
What Happens Next?
Now that daily fantasy sports has become integrated into the mainstream it is time to repeal both PASPA and the UIGEA, taking sports gambling out from the shadows and into a tax revenue stream where it belongs. The United States mandates that law enforcement devote their limited resources to busting bookmakers and raiding barrooms for football squares. The same thing happened during Prohibition and we all know how misguided that law turned out to be yet taking sports bets remains illegal because the only difference is that there are far more drinkers than gamblers. Therefore, there has never been any political collateral to be gained by politicians to rally behind the legalization of sports gambling and online poker.
However, the landscape is changing which is exactly what laws are supposed to do when the social mores and customs of a society evolve. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had it right when he declared legalized sports betting in the United States is inevitable. In stark contrast Roger Goodell’s preening and posturing that sports gambling is a blight on his sport despite the fact that it is, at the very least, partially responsible for the NFL’s soaring ratings is as transparent as it is hypocritical.
Now that fantasy sports gambling - and yes gambling is exactly what it is – has gone viral with a conservative estimate of 30 million participants and billions of dollars changing hands it is indeed time for lawmakers to get with the times. Come out of the Dark Ages Roger as I am sure there is an online sportsbook that would love to lavish the NFL with oodles of money for its sponsorship. Now that’s a fantasy that could very well become a reality if New Jersey wins its appeal, commonsense prevails and the UIGEA and PASPA join the Volstead Act in the annals of laws that should have never been.
The genie is out of the bottle, the ship has sailed and it is long overdue that a bettor wagering on a team consisting of the same players gets as much right to do so as one who bets on a team consisting of different players.