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Confusion about NFL's gambling policy extends to ownership

The NFL has created plenty of confusion by balancing a stream of "thou shalt nots" regarding gambling against "oh yes we shalt" when it comes to profiting from it. The confusion extends to ownership.

Consider this Super Bowl-week sound bite from Falcons owner Arthur Blank to Daniel Kaplan of FrontOfficeSports.com: “Once the Supreme Court made its decision, gambling is here. The league’s position on it has been: Protect the game at all costs, which obviously is absolutely critical. And all the ramifications of that in terms of club personnel, players, betting—I haven’t even walked into a casino [in Las Vegas this week]. I don’t want to be seen there. Theoretically, if I wanted to go to the slots I could—I’m not even sure. . . . But it is what it is. The league will be a participant, and they are a participant in all the economics that have come out of it. Hopefully, the league is being sensitive and promoting responsible betting, because we all know that some of these things can become addictions.”

Did you catch that line in the middle? If I wanted to go to the slots I could—I'm not even sure.

If the owners of the teams aren't sure about what they can and can't do, how can the players or other employees be expected to chart a path through an unforgiving minefield that puts livelihoods on the line?

Again, the NFL didn't have to jump in bed with sports betting. It could have said, "Yes, it's legal now, but we will continue to shun it." It would have been much easier to make and to enforce the rules applicable to everyone, if the NFL had opted to continue its strong opposition to sports wagering.

No gambling, ever, while you work for the NFL or any of its teams, in any capacity.

The league has instead opted to profit from gambling and to allow owners to own up to five percent of any company that has sports betting operations while also having a convoluted list of do's and don'ts aimed at protecting the integrity of the game.

It's not just the actual integrity of the game but the perception of integrity. The Personal Conduct Policy, for example, states that "[e]veryone who is part of the league must refrain from conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL."

Public confidence in the NFL.

How can the public have confidence in the NFL when team owners can own up to five percent of a sportsbook company that will, from time to time, experience lopsided wagering on specific games? If, for example, the sportsbooks had been overloaded with wagers on the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and if the 49ers had won thanks to a controversial officiating decision, would public confidence in the NFL have been affected by the fact that the owners who own a chunk of the sportsbooks got the outcome that, based on their financial interests in one or more sportsbook companies, they preferred?

Part of the problem is that the NFL won't disclose the equity interests that team owners have in sportsbooks, making it impossible to know whether and to what extent owners would lose money or make money if a bad call determines the outcome of a game.

There are many problems with the NFL's inconsistent approach to gambling. One of the obvious problems, as illustrated by Blank's comments, is that owners aren't even sure what they can and can't do.

Maybe things will change at some point. Maybe someone (like Congress) will impose rules that force change. Until then, the league will cram as much cash into its coffers as possible — and it will inflict swift and unforgiving justice on any players or non-players who accidentally run afoul of the league's "do as we say, not as we do" mandates.