The future remains bright for the NFL, mainly because it’s the NFL. But there are challenges. Many come from the ongoing spread of legalized gambling, a dynamic the NFL loathed until the moment the NFL realized just how much money the NFL could make from it.
Bets can be made on anything and everything, including umpteen different forms of wagers regarding who gets drafted and when.
Generally speaking, inside information (known in the corporate world as material nonpublic information) can influence various forms of betting on games. Eventually, however, the games are played. They take on a life of their own. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” (Tyson recently proved that point, by repeatedly punching in the mouth a guy who surely didn’t have that in his plans for the flight he was taking.)
When it comes to the draft, there is no game to be played. Teams know what they’re planning to do. They know who they like. They know who they don’t like. And that information becomes very valuable for those who would like to parlay this knowledge into cash.
It’s easy to catch Calvin Ridley, who foolishly used his own phone to bet on games. It’s a lot harder to police the misappropriation of secret information about intended draft picks.
The dynamic applies not only to the possibility of people who work for teams trying to directly disseminate inside information to those who would then act on it. It can happen indirectly, too. Last year, for example, an ESPN host won nearly $300,000 by picking the first safety to be drafted in multiple wagers with BetMGM. (Part of the problem was that BetMGM listed Tyson Campbell as a safety, when he actually was a cornerback.) While it was never explained whether the host’s plan to bet heavily on Campbell was based on information gleaned from ESPN’s insiders and/or draftniks, it’s a prime example of the problems that potentially can arise in a world of legalized betting, particularly regarding events like the NFL draft.
Of course, it’s not really a problem until evidence of it happening emerges. It will likely take someone being reckless with the knowledge of inside information being shared — or someone being vindictive and blowing the whistle — for the situation to become a scandal. And the NFL likely won’t do much of anything about any of this until it hits the fan.
That’s when the NFL will say something like, “We had no idea this could happen!” And that’s when the NFL will slap together new rules aimed at keeping it from happening again. Even if those rules should have been in place from the get-go.
Here’s the reality. At some point, there will be a sufficiently large scandal to get the attention of legislators and/or prosecutors, potentially culminating in the NFL permanently having to deal with federal regulators when it comes to anything and everything regarding the potential misuse of inside information for wagering purposes.