Roger Goodell has a change of heart on Las Vegas, completing a 180 turnaround

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Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire.

For the NFL, its soul isn’t burning. It’s simply been sold to Sin City and all it stands for.

Speaking at a Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee event on Tuesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell completed his Las Vegas metamorphosis.

You really have become Sports Town USA,” Goodell said, via ESPN.com. “You really have, and that vision was set out, that vision was clear. We wanted to be a part of it, and I think when that happened, everything seemed to change and the stadium obviously is a key component of that. It’s one of the reasons we struggled in Oakland is being able to get a long-term stadium that would work for us. Great news is this is home for us, so we’re glad to be here. . . .

“I think every one of the sports that are represented here today would say that you’ve changed that, you’ve changed that narrative, you’ve changed that image, you’ve changed that platform. And I think, I probably would not have said 10 years ago, that I would see myself sitting here for a Super Bowl.”

“Probably” isn’t nearly strong enough. He definitely wouldn’t have said that. Regarding gambling, he absolutely said the exact opposite.

Testifying under oath 11 years ago in the case that ultimately opened the floodgates to state-by-state legalized gambling, Goodell was asked whether he believes “legalized sports gambling in Las Vegas undermines the public’s confidence in the character of the games.”

Said Goodell: “It creates more gambling, it creates more gamblers and it creates the more likelihood that people are going to perceive it as being an influence. . . . It’s a very strongly held view in the NFL, it has been for decades that the threat that gambling could occur in the NFL or fixing of games or that any outcome could be influenced by the outside could be very damaging to the NFL and very difficult to ever recover from.”

That’s why the NFL fought so vigorously the spread of the vigorish. As Goodell separately said that same year, “If gambling is permitted freely on sporting events, normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.”

Testifying in that same legal action, NFL senior labor counsel Lawrence Ferazini declared that, “[b]ased upon our studies and analysis, we know that [sports betting] will negatively impact our long-term relationship with our fans, negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country.”

Today, the NFL is all in on legalized gambling. It’s as if Goodell never said the many things he said before the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the league’s opposition to legalized gambling and threw the issue to the states. Initially, I thought Goodell would have to resign before the NFL could position itself to profit from this new endeavor. The better position for Goodell’s personal financial interests was to simply pretend he never said what he had repeatedly said.

The hypocrisy of the league reaches full bloom in February, when it stages the NFL’s biggest annual event in Las Vegas. Years ago, the league scoffed at even the possibility of playing a preseason game there. And when former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo hoped to host a fantasy-football convention at a hotel owned by a casino, the NFL shut it down — even though there was no gambling at the property in question.

The NFL’s biggest current gamble is that, as the short-term money-grab continues, the long-term concerns remain. The NFL outlined those concerns before the NFL realized there was a revenue stream to be fully exploited.

If gambling is permitted freely on sporting events, normal incidents of the game such as bad snaps, dropped passes, turnovers, penalties, and play calling inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.

Today, many fans immediately suggest that games are rigged when bad calls happen at key moments of games. The league saw that risk as a direct consequence of legalized gambling. Now that it’s coming to pass, the NFL is too busy racking up sportsbook sponsorships to worry about the negative impact on its long-term relationship with its fans, and the negative impact on its perception across the country.

Basically, the league is a-livin’ the devil may care, and the league knows the sportsbooks have millions to spare.

So, you know, Viva Las Vegas.

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