Despite its tradition of coyness over the years toward sports gambling, the National Football League (NFL) has betting in its bloodline. Two of the league’s founders, Art Rooney and Tim Mara, were both noted gamblers.
Rooney funded the development of the Pittsburgh Steelers using his payday from a horse race at Saratoga Race Course. His close friend Mara worked as a bookmaker in his earlier years, which put him in a position to purchase the New York Giants for $500.
In the succeeding years, the NFL has mostly tried to ignore how instrumental sports betting is to its success. Each year, millions of bettors place a dazzling array of wagers on the outcomes of NFL games. Industry experts estimate the action to be well within the tens of billions of dollars.
A large chunk of this action comes from Las Vegas, where such bets are fully legal. However, the NFL also draws in plenty of action from illegal bookmakers, offshore sportsbooks, and casual office and bar pools.
An example of how strongly the NFL came against gambling was its backing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act in 2006. The NFL supported this bill, which bars casinos and horse racetracks from taking bets on football games.
During that time, an NFL spokesman stated that the league is adamant in making sure that its games are not “betting vehicles”.
NFL Softens on Hardline Stance
In recent years, however, the NFL has softened its hardline stance considerably. No doubt emboldened by the boom of legal sports betting in the US, the league is starting to acknowledge the central part of betting on its continued appeal to fans.
Numerous states now offer legal sports bets. Sports betting is currently a multibillion-dollar industry with steady growth. Although no one knows where the final figure ends up, there is no shortage of those who believe that the sky is the limit for it.
For example, Craig Billings, the Wynn Interactive chief executive, estimates that its market size will reach $40 billion per year, at par with the commercial casino industry’s take.
The NFL’s choice was extremely simple: if they do not move with the times and tap into the benefits of legal sports betting, someone else will do so, losing out on millions of potential sponsorships from casinos and bookmakers.
The league was clear on where it stands with its opening weekend. Fans were treated to a star-studded series of sports betting commercials from the biggest players on the scene, such as DraftKings, BetMGM, WynnBET, and FanDuel, featuring Hollywood stars Marin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, and Ben Affleck. On top of that, the NFL also aired betting lines, a first for the league.
The message was clear: sports betting is here to stay at the NFL. The NFL is now happy to endorse betting operators and their advertising campaigns. These ads are promoting bonuses that give you a chance to win real money with limited risk.
Legal Sports Betting is Booming in the US
Legal sports betting is growing at a staggering rate and it is starting to become clear that this is just the beginning of something much bigger than anyone expected, including the NFL itself.
It has only been three years or so since the US Supreme Court chose to remove a federal ban on sports betting, opening the door to states wanting to offer it.
With the market booming, sports betting companies are rapidly making themselves known to a general audience. The NFL is a key part of that strategy, as evidenced by the explosion of bets during the NFL opening weekend.
According to GeoComply Solutions, a company tasked with ensuring US players’ compliance to state laws regarding gambling, 52.8 million transactions were recorded nationwide during that period—this is more than two times what it recorded the same weekend last season.
Lindsay Slader, the managing director of the company, said that they expected a boost, but was surprised with how large the final number was. Slader noted that the extremely high demand they saw in states like Arizona indicated that sports bettors are excited to make legal sports bets.
The bets came from 18 US states as well as the District of Columbia. With more states gearing up to join the party, it is clear that the current numbers are far from what the industry is capable of.
New York has already given the thumbs-up to online betting and is presently deciding on the particulars. Sports betting is also making its way through the legislatures of large states such as Texas, Florida, and California, to name just a few.
It does not take an expert to figure out that the legal sports betting market is set for massive growth over the next several years, provided the proper legislation is put in place.
This represents potentially lucrative business opportunities for leagues such as the NFL. It also means another opportunity to connect with fans and make them even more invested in the sport.
The NFL is just starting to get into the swing of things with regards to how it will approach this new paradigm. The opening weekend was an initial test run for what could turn out to be a very lucrative endeavor, especially given that it did not take long at all for sports betting companies to start stepping up their game.