Why did the NFL get involved in sports gambling?

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Twenty-one years ago, the National Football League It will not allow Super Bowl ads from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Because she doesn’t want even a whiff of the gambling associated with sports. On Sunday, the NFL will hold its first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, a city built on gambling.

Even in 2003, punting was as much a part of the NFL as helmets and shoulder pads. Fans have been betting on football since it was a semi-professional sport a century ago, when it received far less attention than horse racing or boxing.

With betting on football came an increase in visibility and, indirectly, in revenue.

Despite moving its big game to Vegas, and partnering with companies focused on sports gambling, the NFL still tries to maintain its semblance of some distance between sports and gaming. Players can be fined or even suspended if they do so Place a bet At one of the many casinos in Nevada or if they are Betting on league matchesThis was the case in June 2023.

However, the change in the league’s relationship with sports gambling couldn’t be more evident as it prepares for Sin City’s first Super Bowl.

“There’s obviously a lot of hypocrisy going on here, but attitudes have changed a lot,” said Victor Matheson, an economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross, who teaches a class in the economics of gambling.

Sports betting has been a part of Nevada for decades but has been illegal everywhere else, and a Supreme Court decision in 2018 gave every state the opportunity to legalize it.

“after Supreme Court decision … There was a very rapid change,” Matheson said. “All the patrols have entered.”

“The world has changed”

The NFL could point to a 2018 court decision to explain its embrace of a sector it had previously publicly shunned.

League spokesman Jeff Miller said in a news conference before the Super Bowl that the NFL changed its position “because the world has changed” with the Supreme Court ruling.

Betting sites Caesars, FanDuel, and DraftKings are official partners and have agreements with the league just like Bud Light and other sponsors where they can use the NFL logo in ads. Caesars Entertainment is the official casino sponsor of the NFL.

Miller says the NFL doesn’t get a cut of the amount it bets with these companies. But the NFL and its television rights holders, who pay the NFL more than $13 billion annually to broadcast games, have seen a boon from advertising by the legal gaming industry.

Gambling companies spent an estimated $508 million last year on TV ads, according to MediaRadar, which tracks and estimates ad spending. This amount is not much less than the $685 million that beer companies spend on television advertising.

Not all of that money is spent on advertising during football games, but the NFL has the largest television audience of any sports or entertainment program, meaning its broadcasters get the lion’s share of ad dollars.

This direct spending is just part of the way the NFL has learned to profit from legal gambling.

Betting helps to stick with viewers

Fans with a modest bet on a game are more likely to stay tuned when the outcome becomes lopsided, since they could still end up winning depending on the nature of their bet.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that 68 million Americans will bet $23 billion on the Super Bowl, or an average of $340 per bettor. The amount bet is 44% higher than it was just a year ago. The AGA says nearly 28 million American adults, or one in nine, plan to bet at legal sportsbooks.

The NFL and other leagues have discovered that the increasing amount being wagered on games is key to building viewership in an era of greater competition between networks and streaming services.

“The NFL knows that getting people involved financially is key to getting them to the games,” Matheson said.

“In the age of streaming, there is a tremendous divide in the audience for their video entertainment,” said Andrew Zimbalist, professor emeritus of economics at Smith College and a leading expert on the economics of sports. “You’re holding on to (the audience) by letting them gamble.”

Zimbalist said the NFL has not led the change in thinking. Rather, it refers to The New York Times Editorial by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver In 2014, he called for the legalization of sports gambling as a moment of sea change. This column came four years before the Supreme Court opened the door to legalized sports gambling.

Not every state allows betting on sports. It remains illegal in two of the largest states – California and Texas. Efforts to legalize sports betting in Texas have failed twice recently. But it is now legal in 38 states and the District of Columbia. In most of those states, a bet can be placed from a smartphone.

In addition to the financial risks posed by those with gambling addictions, sports leagues face risks if fans see games merely as a way to bet, rather than something with which they can form an emotional connection, Zimbalist said.

“Sports have long been a way to bring people together,” he said. He added that even fans of opposing teams can argue about sports without it becoming as controversial as other issues that divide society today, such as politics or the Middle East war.

“This is one of the greatest sporting values,” he said. “But I worry that gambling will undo that.”

CNN’s Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.

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