NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Softens His Public Stance on Sports Betting
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell indicated in a radio interview this week that he is softening his stance on sports betting. The NFL is the richest of the American sports leagues, so it is a leader among the sports associations when it comes to championing the PASPA law and opposing sports betting.
In the past two years, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred each indicated they were more open-minded on the sports betting issue than their immediate predecessors. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman so much as admitted that NHL hockey has less sports betting, so the NHL went along with the lawsuit against the state of New Jersey over legal sportsbooks simply for the sake of solidarity.
A good case can be made that the National Football League is the lynchpin in opposing legalized sports betting in the United States — at least from America’s sports establishment.
Goodell: “All of Us Have Evolved…on Gambling“
Thus, to hear Roger Goodell say his stance has softened in recent times is an extraordinary turn of events. Goodell told ESPN Radio this week, “All of us have evolved a little bit on gambling. To me, where I cross the line is anything that can impact on the integrity of the game. If people think it is something that can influence the outcome of a game, we are absolutely opposed to that.”
It should be noted that Goodell was not talking about the New Jersey lawsuit or the legalization of land-based sports betting in general. The commissioner was discussing the possibility of the Oakland Raiders moving to Las Vegas, which is considering a plan to build a $1 billion NFL-ready football stadium.
In the past, the NFL and other sports leagues have opposed having a franchise in America’s gambling capital, because it would place a team in close proximity to the biggest sportsbooks in the United States. There would be no way to police player interaction with major bookmakers and gambling high rollers.
Mark Davis Pledges $500 Million to Las Vegas
Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis appears intent on placing an NFL franchise in Las Vegas. He has had two meetings this offseason with a political action group trying to raise public funding for the Las Vegas stadium issue. The second of those meetings was on Thursday, when Mark Davis said he wanted to turn “the Silver State into the silver and black state.” (The Raiders’ colors are silver and black.)
Mark Davis even pledged to put up $500 million of the capital to build the Las Vegas stadium. That makes it much likelier the city would approve a hotel tax to raise the funds for the stadium, because it would have to raise only half as much as they originally imagined they might have to raise.
Roger Goodell Non-Committal
The NFL commissioner did not give his unqualified support, but he did not come out in opposition to Mark Davis’s plan to move the Oakland Raiders to Vegas. In the interview with ESPN Radio a day before the NFL Draft began (on Thursday), Goodell said, “We don’t have a proposal. Ultimately that is a decision of the ownership.”
“There are owners who will feel very strongly about continuing to support our position on gambling, there will be owners that will have the view of whether that’s the best market for us to be in, whether there’s truly the fan support there, they’ll look at obviously the stadium alternatives, and I think that’s what you do in any relocation.”
For his part, Mark Davis sees the ownership supporting him in his plans to move. He’s likely to have a certain amount of sympathy, because the same owners turned down his bid to move to Los Angeles a couple of months ago. In a 3-team race for the right to move to L.A., the Raiders were the one team left out in the cold. The San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams each were given permission to move into a shared billion-dollar stadium which is being built in Los Angeles.
Las Vegas Vote by NFL Owners
Because he was denied access to Los Angeles, owners are less likely to block Davis’s path to another city. Many of those owners have fought for the kind of stadium improvements Davis wants now, which have been denied to him by the city council of Oakland.
Davis said on Thursday of the NFL ownership, “If we give them an offer they can’t refuse and that’s what we’re talking about now, I don’t see a problem.”
To move his team, Mark Davis would need to receive a vote of support by 23 of the NFL’s 31 owners. Though Roger Goodell would not have a vote, he could bring his influence to the voting process in a number of ways, so his support is key.
Sheldon Adelson Leads Stadium Issue
Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson is leading the local group wanting to build the 65,000-seat Las Vegas stadium. Adelson has pledged to pay $150 million towards the stadium, to make the proposal more palatable to Las Vegas voters and officials. Mark Davis also has planned to host at least one exhibition game this summer at UNLV’s 35,000-seat stadium, in hopes of raising public interest in the Oakland Raiders’ franchise.
Earlier this year, Mark Davis signed a one-year lease with the O.co Colisseum in Oakland, where they Raiders have played since 1995. He is going to pay $3.5 million in rent on that lease, which is a threefold increase in rent. He also holds an option to renew the lease in both 2017 and 2018, but would rather play elsewhere.
What Would Roger Goodell Good?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is likely to support the plan, which would be one more step forward for legalized sports betting in the United States. Though Goodell has been heavily criticized by fans and players for botching the Ray Rice investigation, as well as the Bountygate and Deflategate scandals, he retains the support of ownership.
The main reason Goodell is popular with owners is his inventive ways of raising cash for the NFL. He has maximized TV contracts by slicing off parts of the NFL to sell to multiple networks. The Thursday Night Football package is a good example of Goodell’s penchant for wringing maximum profit out of the NFL’s limited schedule of games.
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