Do Shadows Of Its Past Cloud NFL Gambling’s Future?

NFL and gambling have come a long way since “The Unauthorized History Of The NFL – The Mob & Gambling” was released in 1983.  The riveting documentary explores the historical connections between organized crime and gambling.

America has a short memory but it’s difficult to forget when former Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended for the entire 2022 season for betting on NFL games during the 2021 season while he was away from the team addressing mental health concerns.

Conflict Is Inevitable

Of course the NFL’s gambling policy prohibits all NFL personnel from betting on NFL games, with violations leading to severe penalties, including indefinite suspensions if a player bets on an NFL game involving his team.

Officials won’t hesitate to banish players from the NFL for actual or attempted game fixing. It is difficult to argue that the league hasn’t been vigilant in monitoring and enforcing these rules to maintain the integrity of the sport.

But as much as it does to distance itself from its checkered past, the history of illegal gambling and the NFL is intertwined, with gambling playing a significant role in the league’s development.

Gangster Roots

Since racetrack owner and gambler Art Rooney founded the aptly named Pittsburgh Pirates, which later became the Pittsburgh Steelers, the league has presided over players and team owners who are involved in illegal gambling activities and potentially the crimes associated with it such as violent collection tactics.

When you get right down to it, the NFL’s negative public stance against gambling, is conflictual at best as it fights to defend its integrity while blessing a multibillion dollar legal gambling market.

When the Supreme Court lifted the ban on sports gambling in most of the country in 2018, sports betting became legal in 34 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

This opened the floodgates to the league embracing legalized sports betting and forming partnerships in lockstep with the juggernaut sportsbook operators.

Level Playing Field Is Fiction

From a pure brand integrity standpoint, the NFL is still knee deep in muddy water. While it enforces strict gambling rules for its personnel, any outsider betting on the game can’t help but feel they are operating at a severe disadvantage.

Like the stock market, the institutions on the inside make the vast majority of the money on Wall Street and it’s likely that the operators at the top of the food chain will be the primary beneficiaries of sports betting.

There’s a lot more riding on this Sunday’s game than bragging rights and geographical superiority. According to the American Gaming Association, 68 millionUS adults are placing their bets.

That represents a mind numbing 35% more individual gamblers than last year with their bets exploding from $16 billion in 2023 to a record $23.1 billion in 2024, a 45% increase year over year.

If that growth rate or anywhere near it continues over the next ten years, America is going to have a gambling problem.

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