AGA starting to view NFL as an ally

Oct 6, 2015 3:09 AM

The American Gaming Association has what may be a game changer, strategy that could conceivably have the fuddy-duddies at the National Football League abandoning their badly worn don’t-give-an-inch opposition to sports betting.

The new AGA strategy suggests the NFL is no longer the equivalent of a walking, talking hypocrite with its unyielding opposition to sports wagering, but a possible partner with whom big things can be accomplished.

Yes, changed perspectives – you know, less growling and more smiles – can make a difference.

The new thinking came to my attention in an AGA release that says in part, “As the NFL prepares to host a slate of games in London, the AGA is lauding the League for playing games in a city and country where legal sports betting on NFL games takes place in neighborhoods surrounding the playing field.”

Did the Association really say lauding?

Yes it did.

The Jets have played the Dolphins in London, the Bills and Jaguars will square off Oct. 25 and the Detroit Lions will take on the Kansas City Chiefs Nov. 1.

The AGA noted that legal sports betting and NFL games “co-exist so well” – and promote the integrity of the games – that the NFL is considering placing a franchise in London.

“ reported that the League is making strides in locating a franchise in the city by 2022,” the Gaming Association said. “While sports fans across the United States are also betting on these games – largely illegally because of an outdated and failing law – millions of dollars will be bet in London on the NFL games in a legal, regulated and safe manner.”

ESPN last season reported before the first of three games in London that there are more than 30 gambling parlors in the Wembley Park area where the stadium is located. The betting shops reported they expected to receive up to a 100 percent increase in the wagering action compared to games played in the U.S.

Do you suppose Las Vegas may be among the next cities to be in line for a future NFL franchise?

It looks like the promise of a nice (carefully regulated) profit can turn last year’s nemesis into next year’s good buddy…or something like it.

The NFL’s love affair with football in London is not new. Games have been held there for several years. What is new is the rising tide of fascination with betting on sports as played by all the major sports leagues.

A friend in the legal sports betting business confided several years ago that he was aware of informal talk over three martini luncheons, talk that suggested the NFL’s unyielding opposition to sports betting could be put to rest in a hurry if they could find a way to cut leagues – NFL, NBA and MLB – in on the action. That kind of talk was never put on the record in any courtroom that I’m aware of.

But the foundation for something big was being put in place.

There came a not so long ago time when fantasy wagering burst on the scene in a way that got attention from people who had never given it a lot of thought. Fantasy betting of one kind or another had been around for years, but suddenly it is big business – big with a capital B as in billions, thanks to so-called seed money contributions from hedge funds and other sources of big money.

Even so, the NFL and others were still going into court as recently as this year arguing any connection with sports betting could soil the, uh, pristine images of their respective brands.

A lot of heads have been turned in recent months by this monster of a commercial venture known as fantasy wagering. In the first place, many of its proponents argued, it’s not gambling but a matter of skill.

I’d like to see a show of hands from people who accept that.

Everybody was getting creative in their approaches to the subject of sports betting, everyone except the league attorneys who argued their clients deserved better than to be connected with (ugh!) gambling.

Veterans of Las Vegas Super Bowl weekends will remember when the NFL cops were dashing off nasty letters to Vegas resorts warning them to be careful about references to the Super Bowl and its biggest game of their year.

A certain resort president shrugged that off, telling me with a snicker, “I’ll maybe have our customers in to pick the best of the Super Bowl commercials. If they have to sit through a game to do that then so be it.”

But maybe the times are finally changing as policymakers come to grips with the realization that millions of people put few bucks on their game of the week. Politicians in at least a half-dozen states have taken note of the millions in tax revenue that legal wagering would generate.

Whatever happens as this issue continues along the evolutionary highway, the AGA deserves credit for helping to yank sports wagering free from the grip of those who have nothing more to offer than outdated reasoning.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].