Pro football officials warming to NJ sports wagering push

Jun 5, 2012 3:09 AM

The National Football League may be inching toward that game changing moment when it gives grudging approval to the kind of sports wagering that now exists only in Nevada.

I was wondering about the NFL’s willingness to compromise or go to war as a result of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to allow Atlantic City casinos to begin accepting bets on the outcome of games sometime this fall.

You think the NFL might be willing to talk? I asked a friend. He has a track record of sharing accurate insights and is well acquainted with the ins and outs of the sports betting industry.

“They’re already talking,” he said.

Yeah?

Seeing my obvious surprise he continued, “There was some conversation back a few years ago when Delaware was ready to go with wide open sports betting at its three tracks. I was not in the room at the time but I heard someone with an NFL affiliation said 25 percent of the win might be sufficient incentive for the league to give its approval to some kind of compromise.”

He said he had no idea whether the comment represented an accurate view of the possibilities or whether it was a tongue in cheek observation during one of those three martini lunches.

My friend said that kind of cut was not acceptable to those in charge of managing Delaware’s plans for sports wagering. So the two sides went to court. The NFL filed suit charging Delaware’s plan was in violation of the 1992 prohibition passed by Congress that limited any kind of sports betting to four states – Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana.

A second source, an insider in the sports wagering industry, agreed 25 percent of the win was too much, since sports betting by itself is not all profitable, but he wondered if a smaller cut of the total handle might provide the basis for a deal that could eventually send everyone home with satisfied smiles.

“One of the problems with any talk of a deal,” he said, “Who is the NFL (or any major sports league, including the NCAA) going to negotiate with? There is not anything resembling a national association of bookmakers.”

New Jersey missed a chance to become the fifth state by letting voters act on the issue in the 1992 election. Powerbrokers in Trenton decided putting that issue on the ballot might help elect a Democratic governor.

“But look at what you have now,” my friend said. “The NFL has licensed Scientific Games to use team names and logos on scratch-off lottery tickets.”

He gave that a moment’s thought before adding, “The world is a changing place and the NFL knows it even if that reality has not found a place in its public policy statements.

“Think about the number of full-fledged casinos you have within an easy drive of NFL stadiums across the country.”

This kind of gaming industry growth has fed the larger than ever appetite for sports wagering opportunities with the leagues themselves looking for the dollars to help fill a variety of player welfare funds.

He noted that the audience of interested public officials continues growing. A half-dozen or so states, including California, have passed or are in the process of developing legislation that would allow sports wagering once the federal prohibition has been overturned as a result of either new federal action or the kind of courtroom litigation that could very possibly result from Christie’s promised action.

My second source, who offered his thoughts on the condition he not be identified since he is not a spokesman for his company, thinks the New Jersey action could be the catalyst that will bring far-reaching changes, assuming Christie does not reverse the course he seems determined to take.

Kevin DeSanctis, the CEO at Atlantic City’s new Revel resort agreed with my thought that his company and possibly Resorts – the site of Christie’s press conference that promised sports betting by this fall – appear to be logical locations for the first Atlantic City sports books. Neither casino would be burdened by the possibility of having to deal with regulators in other states.

He chuckled, “and it looks like we will have the attorney general on our side.”

Resorts officials could not be reached for comment and DeSanctis, despite his admitted support of Christie’s plan, is not yet ready to say what he will do.