NFL’s rapid adoption of the game creates mixed signals

NFL’s rapid adoption of the game creates mixed signals

Next week, National Football League players, coaches, fans and executives will gather for an event virtually unthinkable just 10 years ago: the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the United States.

Since the Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal law banning sports betting outside of Nevada – a ban once supported by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell – the NFL has embraced the gaming industry. partnerships which are, it seems, worth almost a billion dollars for five years with sports betting companies and allowed a bookmaker to operate in one of its stadiums. Today, it even has a team in Las Vegas, which the league avoided for decades because any affiliation was seen as a threat to the integrity of the game.

Yet integrating sports betting so quickly into league culture has resulted in some shocking contradictions. The NFL is working to popularize and exploit sports betting while guarding against the potential pitfalls it has long condemned. While the league donates money to promote responsible gaming, its broadcasts are peppered with advertisements for sports betting companies. The NFL is part of a growing scheme that encourages casual fans to regularly bet on games, while punishing league employees – particularly gamblers – who might do the same.

The NFL and other sports leagues “moved quickly into this, fully considering the revenue benefits of engaging in sports gaming, but without necessarily thinking about everything that could go wrong,” said Marc Edelman, law professor and sports director. … ethics at Baruch College in New York.

“While it makes perfect sense to prohibit sports team employees from betting on games,” Mr. Edelman added, “there is undeniably a level of cognitive dissonance” when NFL players and staff Frequently come across content encouraging gambling, including stadium signage. and bet on the odds of NFL broadcasts, all while doing their job. League partnerships also give gaming companies the right to use the NFL logo in their marketing and participate in major NFL events.

The NFL says its stance on sports betting, which is in line with other major U.S. sports leagues, has changed with the changing legal landscape, and that working with gaming operators allows it to better protect the integrity As with many positions taken by the NFL, the effects are amplified due to the cultural influence of the league. More than just reacting to the landscape, the NFL helps shape it.

Americans have legally bet more than $115 billion on sports in 2023, according to the American Gaming Association, the national trade group for the gaming industry. Nearly 25 million more Americans have bet on sports l last year than in 2018, the group said, and the number of states where sports betting is legal will reach 38 this year.

Although numbers for the NFL in particular are difficult to analyze because not all states release reports by sport or league, the players’ association pointed to market analysis by investment firm Citizens JMP Securities. The report projects that about $1.5 billion would be legally bet on next Sunday’s Super Bowl, more than 1 percent of the money legally bet on all sports last year.

There is little data indicating whether the legalization of sports gambling has increased addictive behaviors. But those who track the effects of gambling are concerned. The National Council on Problem Gambling said its survey data indicated a growing risk of problem gambling for U.S. adults in the three years since the federal ban on sports betting was overturned.

Dr. Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist and director of the Yale Center for Excellence in Gambling Research, described “a perfect storm” that could lead some people to develop a gambling problem. I cited factors such as relaxation of regulations, accessibility of mobile betting, abundant advertising and free time devoted to sport. Young men who place a high value on sports are particularly vulnerable, Dr. Potenza said.

In 2021, the year the NFL reached agreements with its three sports betting partners, it awarded the National Council on Problem Gambling a three-year, $6.2 million grant that was used in part to modernize the helpline that appears at the bottom of betting ads. . The league’s contribution is a small fraction of what gambling companies pay to be part of the NFL’s marketing apparatus, but it is the largest subsidy in history of the board and exceeds the nonprofit’s total grants over the previous four years, according to tax filings.

“We’re in this business now — we’re in this business,” said Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s senior vice president of social responsibility. “What can we do to ensure we don’t cause undue additional harm?” »

The league’s approach to gaming violations within its own ranks, however, remains punitive. For decades, sports leagues believed that gambling could undermine the integrity of results – for example, worrying about the risk of a player missing a game because of a bet – and the emphasis has therefore focused on enforcement and punishment rather than prevention and treatment.

The NFL prohibits league and team personnel from betting on any sport, while players are allowed to bet on non-NFL sports, provided they do not do so on the premises of the team or during team or league activities. While in Las Vegas for the Super Bowl, members of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers as well as hundreds of league employees, many of whom are staying at Caesars Palace, are not allowed to play the games casino and can only participate in a bookmaker if they go through it. in another part of the hotel.

The NFL says it educates 17,000 people about its policy each year, and last year, amid a wave of player suspensions, league officials began visiting teams to conduct briefings. in-person training with players. Players suspended for at least a full season are advised that receiving counseling is one of the factors the league will consider when seeking reinstatement, and the league said it is sharing resources on responsible gaming during of his training.

The NFL has not disclosed the number of league employees who have been punished under its gaming policy. The league had gone decades without any gaming violations before the Supreme Court ruling, but 10 players have been penalized this season, including seven who served a season-long ban for betting on NFL games. In September, the league toughened penalties for players who bet on their own teams and reduced them for first-time offenders who bet on other sports while working.

Two former NFL employees who were fired in the past two years for violating the policy said in interviews that they were not offered the opportunity to undergo rehabilitation and return to their jobs, as it happens often for league employees struggling with issues such as substance abuse. The former employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions, said they were fired without seriousness or compensation.

One said the person’s firing was because he had bet less than $1,000 on the NFL and other sports four years earlier, through a company which is now a partner of the league. The New York Times confirmed the details by reviewing a record of the former employee’s account with the company. The other employee said the league’s main concern appeared to be the possibility that the debts could be used as leverage against the employee.

Asked about the firings, the NFL said in a statement: “We take any threat to the integrity of the game seriously, and violations of our gaming policy may result in the termination of staff, who receive extensive training and other resources to help. require them to comply with the policy.

David Highhill, who was named the NFL’s chief sports betting officer in 2022, said the top priority in drafting and enforcing the league’s gaming policy was preserving the integrity of the game.

The NFL audience, however, sees a constant stream of advertisements from betting companies. In response to fan discontent when ads from FanDuel and DraftKings for so-called fantasy football — in which fans choose their own teams of NFL players — saturated game broadcasts in 2015, the league capped the number of sports betting ads to six per broadcast when it began accepting them in 2021.

Yet in each of the past three years, more Americans have seen sports betting ads during NFL games than during any other national television broadcast, according to data from iSpot, a sports measurement company. television. Three betting ads will air during this year’s Super Bowl broadcast, Mr. Highhill said.

Throughout the week leading up to next Sunday’s game, the business ties between the NFL and betting operators will be on full display in Las Vegas. It’s a booming business for the league, but it worries those who have long fought to move the game away from professional sports.

“They would say they think it can now be controlled,” said former Sen. Bill Bradley, a retired professional basketball player and one of the driving forces behind overturning the 1992 law that banned sports betting , referring to the NFL and other leagues. “And I just don’t think it’s going to be controlled.” “I think it will pervade the culture.”

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David B.Otero

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