When the Supreme Court paved the way for the legalization of sports betting in 2018, the NFL rushed to embrace a lucrative business it had denounced for decades as bad for sports. There was, after all, fresh money to be made. The consequences of this volte-face are now coming to an end.
The league on Friday handed down some of the toughest penalties it has ever handed out, banning three players for at least the 2023 season for betting on NFL games and suspending two others for six games for other violations. league betting policy. The scale of the latest scandal and the league’s terse verdict rekindle questions about the shaky line the NFL is trying to tread the game.
The indefinite suspension of three players – Detroit Lions wide receiver Quintez Cephus and safety CJ Moore and Washington Commanders defensive end Shaka Toney – means that five players in the past four years have received bans of at least one. season for betting on NFL games. , after decades without such punishments. This week’s investigation concluded with two other Lions players, receivers Stanley Berryhill and Jameson Williams, suspended for six games for lesser gambling offenses that did not include betting on NFL games.
This kind of scandal may have been what the NFL has guarded against for the 25 years it has spent exposing legalized sports betting. “We shouldn’t be messing with our kids’ heroes,” then-league commissioner Paul Tagliabue told Congress in 1991 in favor of legislation that effectively banned sports betting nationwide. In 2012, it was Roger Goodell’s turn to take up the cause.
“The NFL is not recoverable in damages for the injury that sports betting causes to the goodwill, character and integrity of NFL football,” Goodell wrote in a statement for a court case about the sport bets.
Yet in 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down the law Tagliabue had championed, paving the way for states to legalize sports betting, the NFL quickly backtracked and sought to cash in on it. Once critical of all that Las Vegas stood for, the league quickly allowed the Raiders to build a stadium just off the Strip with a view of the Luxor pyramid, hosted the Pro Bowl and draft in the city, and will conclude the season 2023. with a Super Bowl there.
In the process, the league has opened the door to the very evil its leaders have spent a quarter century warning against.
“Now young athletes are coming into professional sports leagues with mixed messages, not just from society and gaming companies, but from sports leagues themselves,” said Marc Edelman, law professor and director of the sports ethics at Baruch College. As long as the NFL has partnerships with betting companies, advertises betting during its games, and encourages betting to the point of having on-site sports betting in NFL stadiums, there will be “a level cognitive dissonance for some players,” who might not fully realize the ramifications if they bet on sports, Edelman added.
The NFL, which says it annually educates all staff on its gaming policies, justified its harsh penalties as necessary to protect “the integrity of the game.” Still, the NFL hasn’t released enough information about the violations for the public to know whether players are betting on their teams’ games, or betting in coordination with each other, or how they were caught. The league did not say if, or how, the integrity of this game or others was at risk.
The seriousness of the discipline, on a par with that imposed on players who previously bet on their own teams, appeared to be aimed at deterring others. But the league’s explanation of its sanctions fell short of another goal: ensuring public confidence.
In a 181-word statement, released heading into the weekend, the league asked fans to take at face value its one-sentence assertion that “a league review has found no evidence indicating that inside information has been used or a game has been compromised in any way.”
But the league has a reputation for not being available on damaging information. The NFL destroyed videotapes and other evidence it collected as part of the 2007 Spygate investigation, which showed the New England Patriots filmed their opponents’ sideline to steal signals . And he refused to oblige and release a written report detailing the findings of the league-sponsored investigation into allegations of workplace abuse and harassment under Daniel Snyder’s commanding officers.
Although sports betting has only been largely legal in the United States for a few years, today’s gamblers have actually been brought up on the game as entertainment. Sports betting apps borrow from the micro-transactions and loot boxes that are prevalent in video games, and many are created by the same companies that once saturated the airwaves of the NFL with ads for daily fantasy sports.
“The ease with which people can bet on sports on their phones is a boon to the sports betting industry because it puts a casino at everyone’s fingertips,” Edelman said. “But it’s much easier for someone to make an instant decision to place a single bet of a small amount without thinking twice, and only realizing after the fact that it’s a violation.”
Many sports betting experts claim that catching players betting is proof that the system works. With sports leagues, betting data companies and law enforcement aligned, their oversight, they say, is more effective in rooting out illicit activity now that betting is legal.
The partnerships that the NFL has forged with sports betting companies are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions per year. Instead of the ‘damage’ Goodell warned of in 2012, the NFL has reaped profits, including massive sponsorship deals with casinos – while a handful of players have paid a hefty price as the league announces its integrity.
Arizona Cardinals defensive back Josh Shaw, who was suspended in 2019 for more than a season for betting on NFL games, never played in the NFL again. Former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley, a former first-round pick, was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars during his one-season suspension and was reinstated in March. The Lions quickly cut Cephus and Moore on Friday.
Bob Boland, a Seton Hall sports law professor who teaches subjects such as gaming law, described the influx of new gaming money into the NFL as having a “steroid effect” that hastened abandonment by the league of his view of the game as an existential threat.
“That will likely dissipate over time,” Boland said. “But it certainly sent the message that we don’t treat this with as much fear and trepidation as we used to, so maybe you shouldn’t worry about that either.”
Finding a pleasurable way to embrace something long considered a vice, Boland added, “is a tough challenge,” especially when change has happened so quickly.
Goodell was right in 2012 that there would be a cost to legalizing sports betting. But the NFL continues to hope that it won’t pay.