As Raiders rush to Las Vegas, try not to laugh at Roger Goodell's stance against gambling

·Columnist

Roger Goodell recently declared the NFL remained opposed to legalized sports wagering. The NFL commissioner’s reasons were trite, outdated and mocked by experts, but when has that ever stopped the NFL from doubling down (gambling term) on a policy?

If Goodell says the league is opposed to sports wagering, then you rest assure that …

… Welcome the Las Vegas Raiders

… Yeah, there is nothing that $750 million can’t buy.

Whatever. Goodell is just the talking head for the league. His bosses voted Monday by the tune of 31-1 that the Raiders should move from Oakland to Las Vegas because the good people of Clark County got suckered into the latest NFL tax boondoggle. Join the club.

Raider Nation is moving east to Las Vegas as the league approved of the team's plans to relocate from Northern California. (AP)
Raider Nation is moving east to Las Vegas, as the league approved of the team’s plans to relocate from Northern California. (AP)

Suddenly those bright light casinos didn’t look so bad. As recently as 2013, according to ProFootballTalk, the NFL was so opposed to sports wagering that it wouldn’t even let Las Vegas bid for the Pro Bowl – which isn’t even a real game. It also wouldn’t allow a preseason game to be played there, by (presumably) a California team seeking to expand its fan base.

Four years later and the concerns about staging games in a state with legal sports wagering is gone. The NFL already started playing games in London (four this coming season) despite the fact there’s a sports book or three on nearly every block there.

Why? Money.

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Oakland didn’t have any. Vegas did. Gambling no longer mattered. Nothing did. They are now embracing Vegas and everything it has to offer. For instance, the guy who runs the famed “Moonlite BunnyRanch” – among other establishments – says he’s set to open the world’s first “sports brothel” on the Raiders’ first home game.

It’s all part of the fun.

These guys didn’t become rich by accident – well, other than Raiders owner Mark Davis and a bunch of the others who were born into it. Even then they were taught the golden rule at their daddy’s knee: If someone is willing to hand you gold, change the rules.

“[The NFL] is not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” Goodell told MMQB.com this week. “We still don’t think it is a positive thing. We want to make sure that the integrity of our game is the primary concern and we do everything possible to protect that. And that people are watching it for the outcome, and they know that it is not being influenced by any outside influences. We are very determined to continue that, and we will; that’s a first priority for us.”

The above paragraph is ridiculous and has been for decades. The FBI, the casino industry and everyone else who has studied this stuff agrees that the best way to stop games from being “influenced by any outside influences” is to legalize sports gambling.

A look at the projected stadium plans for the Las Vegas Raiders. (Photo courtesy of MANICA Architecture)
A look at the projected stadium plans for the Las Vegas Raiders. (Photo courtesy of MANICA Architecture)

Legal wagering allows shifts in the point spread or unusual betting patterns to be monitored in real time. Games can be taken off the board. Unexpected winners can be tracked. Everything (or as much as possible) is out in the open. Once you take out – or weaken – the financial incentive to fixing games, while also increasing the ability of law enforcement to catch those engaging in it, then it will occur less frequently.

The English Premier League isn’t overrun with match fixing scandals despite gambling being legal there. Besides, this isn’t old Vegas, with Robert De Niro running the Tangiers. Sports books sit inside casinos owned by multinational conglomerates. They want a square game more than even the NFL.

There is no viable opposition to sports wagering that centers on the integrity of the game.

Among the other positives of legalized gambling is that it cuts off a critical revenue stream to organized crime that is used to fund truly nefarious businesses. It can provide substantial tax revenue. It keeps American money in America, and not whatever percentage winds up offshore.

And people love it. They always have.

“This is further evidence that the myth that legalized sports betting somehow hurts the game is nothing more than fake news,” bookmaker William Hill stated Monday in hailing news of the NFL in Vegas.

It’s one reason why NBA commissioner Adam Silver says his league no longer opposes legalized sports wagering. Or why NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has softened his opposition of late (hockey is also putting a franchise in Vegas, of course, and isn’t much of a sport to gamble on to begin with considering it represents just 1 percent of book action).

The NFL will soon fully embrace legalized sports wagering because it’ll need the revenue. The television sports bubble is about to burst, if it already hasn’t. The old model of networks bidding billions of dollars and then hoping to recoup the costs via commercial advertising and promotion is on its last legs.

Cord cutting, mobile viewing and streaming are changing the business model. The future is likely involving major web sites and smaller (albeit more advertising target rich) viewing numbers. The games will always be on. They just won’t bring in the same assured money that the NFL has grown accustomed.

And while the stadiums keep getting nicer and nicer, and taxpayers for the most part keep making deals to build those nicer and nicer stadiums, there is only so much money that can be made on game day.

This means a new path to the well is needed. If $750 million in tax dollars for a new stadium was enough for the NFL to completely flip-flop on Vegas, then imagine what the league owners will do for a recurring, and much larger share that gambling can provide?

That’s in both increased engagement and, most likely, some way to cut the league in on the action by licensing its game for wagering to sports books. Once the NFL needs to get its piece, it’s going to get its piece. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Right now the NFL is (officially) clinging to some old-school, shortsighted anti-gambling concept. It won’t for long, though.

That’s just talk. Money matters.

Viva Las Vegas.

More on Las Vegas Raiders
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Shortchanging owners, NFL can cost a city its team
Dolphins owner explains why he voted no on deal
How will move impact Las Vegas’ economy?
Move signifies cultural shift in NFL’s stance on gambling