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NFL once again highlights hypocrisy on gambling

You can bet the NFL will continue double-talk when it comes to gambling—that is unless you’re a player. In that case, no bets, or even the faintest of association with them, is allowed.

This past week, the NFL canceled a Las Vegas fantasy football convention set for July 10-12 that would have included appearances from stars Tony Romo, Rob Gronkowski, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Eddie Lacy, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and many others. According to multiple reports, the league allegedly threatened to fine or suspend players who attended the event.

The NFL also nixed a similar Vegas fantasy football convention set to occur the next week, this one including stars Von Miller and Brandon Marshall. Per ESPN’s Darren Rovell, players were set to receive more than a combined $1 million in appearance fees at the events.

According to an NFL spokesman, the restrictions are due to the league’s rules against players and personnel participating in promotional activities held at casinos. This public stance stems from the league’s alleged concerns that any relationships with sports betting put the integrity of games at risk. However, the notion that Romo, who is set to make well over $100 million in salary alone by the end of his career, is susceptible to meeting a potential match-fixer at the blackjack table, who could somehow convince him to fix some games, is preposterous.

Of course, there were many other players making far less than Romo expected to attend the conventions, but it’s an incredibly outdated notion to assume a hypothetical match-fixing bogeyman would want to conduct his business under the highly surveillanced eyes of Vegas casinos or within well-regulated, transparent betting markets. (And if anything, it’s the league’s repeated lawsuits against states attempting to legalize gambling and make it more transparent that allow any risk to persist. If there is any match-fixing risk, it’s of the NFL’s own creation.)

It’s far more likely that the league is simply annoyed at the prospect of potential revenue flowing to outside sources—in this case Vegas casinos and event organizers—and it’s likely only a matter of time until the league cuts out these middle men and launches a fantasy football convention of its own.

Despite repeatedly invoking “do as I say, not as I do”-type arguments, the NFL has adamantly claimed an uncompromised stance against sports betting. When the league allowed casinos to purchase advertising at stadiums in 2012, raising many eyebrows about its anti-gambling rhetoric, the NFL released the following statement:

“These policy modifications are designed to ensure that all permitted gambling advertising by NFL clubs is executed in accordance with industry best practices, is intended to target adult audiences, is consistent with the League’s continuing opposition to sports gambling, and minimizes any potential negative impact on the NFL brand.”

Here are some of the many other conflicting stances and decisions the league has taken over the years on the matter:

  • Allows Rooney family to own racetracks with machine gaming in New York and Florida
  • Plays games in London, where sports betting is legal and regulated
  • Embraces fantasy football
  • Rumored to be starting its own daily fantasy product
  • Mandates weekly injury reports, which largely serve to help bettors
  • Embraces sponsorships with beer companies, rather than alcohol prohibition
  • Licenses logos for state lottery scratch-off tickets
  • Allows broadcast partners to discuss betting lines
  • Charges Vegas sportsbooks to carry live feeds of games
  • Allows casinos to purchase ads at stadiums

Roger Goodell and the NFL have publicly denounced legalized gambling for decades, and that stance is unlikely to change so long as sports betting remains widely illegal in the United States. This is likely to be another bargaining chip to be debated at the next round of CBA negotiations.