Las Vegas Situation Displays NFL's Hypocrisy

The league is softening on gambling for all the wrong reasons

NBC 7's Derek Togerson looks at the possibility of the NFL going to Las Vegas in this commentary

At least a couple of times a week some kind of update pops up about the Raiders pursuing a move to Las Vegas. While Sin City is certainly an intriguing market ripe with possibilities there is one fairly large detail that needs to be addressed:

The NFL has long held an anti-gambling stance and if they put a team in Las Vegas they are tacitly accepting, if not outright endorsing gambling. That is not just making an assumption. The tippy top of the league hierarchy has made that abundantly clear.

"We oppose sports gambling,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in April of 2015. “We haven't changed our position on that, and I don't see us changing our position on that."

That’s really interesting because exactly 371 days later Commissioner Goodell was asked about gambling again.

“All of us have evolved a little bit on gambling,” Goodell said in April of 2016. “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.”

That is an awfully big attitude adjustment in a very short time. So what could have changed the Commissioner’s stance on gambling so quickly? To find out all we have to do is follow the money, and I don’t mean the kind you get when you go all in at the poker table.

In January of 2016 Rams owner Stan Kroenke kicked in the proverbial teeth of Chargers owner Dean Spanos and Raiders Owner Mark Davis with a 30-2 vote of the NFL owners and won the rights to move to Los Angeles. That left the Chargers and Raiders wondering what to do next. A consortium of investors led by casino monster Las Vegas Sands Corp. decided to strike while the iron was hot.

The group proposed a $1.4 billion domed stadium on 42 acres near the UNLV campus and the Raiders jumped at the idea. Over the next couple of months plans evolved a bit but the financing breakdown of anything they’ve come up with does include a sizeable chunk of public funding from a hotel tax … and that is music to the NFL’s ears.

Things are simply not progressing on the stadium front for the Raiders in Oakland. While the Chargers have been able to get a citizens’ initiative on the November ballot in San Diego, up in the Bay Area there is little to no movement aside from a few high profile people throwing out ideas.

So the NFL is willing to change its stance on gambling, something it has held firm on for decades, to get another shiny new stadium built with a whole lot of public money and increase revenue streams for the entire league and its 32 member clubs. In reality here the NFL never thought about Las Vegas as a market, not because of gambling, but because of demographics.

Vegas would be the league’s 5th-smallest media market. The only ones smaller are Buffalo, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Green Bay. Three of those places have a long tradition and a rabid, large, loyal fan base and one is located in Florida. The league never really wanted to go to Vegas because they still had a hole in L.A. so they used the anti-gambling thing as a way to avoid Nevada.

Now that the City of Angels is spoken for, the 49ers still give the Shield a presence in the Bay Area, and Las Vegas seems willing to pony up some dollars the league has suddenly gone from “We oppose sports gambling” to, as Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said, “I’d be open to [a move to Las Vegas].”

Never forget the NFL is about making money for the NFL and its owners. It’s a $13 billion a year industry that has a stated goal of reaching $25 billion by the year 2027 (yes, Goodell said that himself). A very big way of helping beef up that bottom line is building new stadiums that generate fresh cash flow for the teams playing in them.

If that means a quick about-face on something it used to believe wholeheartedly, well, that’s OK. And it means the NFL moving a team to Sin City, something that even a year ago seemed like a pipe dream, is now very much a reality.

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