No betting on the Super Bowl in Nevada? It’s possible, with the arrival of the Las Vegas Raiders, after NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move to Sin City in a 31-1 vote on Monday.
If the NFL wanted to take its opposition to legal sports betting to the extreme, Nevada gaming regulations allow sports governing bodies to request that the state’s legal sportsbooks be prohibited from taking bets on games involving professional franchises based in Nevada, including home, away and playoff games. So if the Raiders were in the playoffs or Super Bowl, betting might not be allowed if the NFL exercises its ability to block sportsbooks from taking bets on Raiders games.
Commissioner Roger Goodell says the NFL remains opposed to legalized sports betting in the United States, even now with one of the league’s most storied franchises, the Raiders, heading to Las Vegas, home to the nation’s largest legal sports betting market.
“We are not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling,” Goodell told Peter King of MMQB.com, ahead of Monday’s owners vote that approved the Raiders’ relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas. “We still don’t think it’s a positive thing.”
The NFL has had a decades-long adversarial public relationship with sports betting. Here is a collection of quotes, from Pete Rozelle in 1963 to Roger Goodell’s recent comments.
NFL referees are prohibited from visiting Vegas. So what will happen with officials — and the league’s credibility — should the Raiders move to town?
For years, the NFL avoided Nevada at all costs.
In 2013, when a new stadium was being discussed for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a league spokesman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the NFL wouldn’t be interested in holding even an exhibition game in the city due to sports gambling.
More recently, though, Goodell said the NFL has “evolved a little” on gambling. Just how far the league has evolved and how comfortable it truly is with legal sports betting will be tested before the Raiders play their first game in Las Vegas.
Per Nevada Gaming Control regulations, a governing body may request that the state’s sportsbooks be prohibited from accepting or paying bets on “any event, regardless of where it is held, involving a professional team whose home field, a court, or base is in Nevada or any event played in Nevada involving a professional team.”
By the letter of the regulation, this would include home and away games and the playoffs.
The NFL will have 30 days prior to the first Las Vegas Raiders game to file a written request. As of Monday morning, Nevada Gaming Control officials had not heard from the NFL regarding any such request. The Nevada Gaming Commission will have the final say on the issue.
“There is betting on professional sports all over the country — illegally,” Dr. Tony Alamo, chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, told ESPN. “In Nevada, we do it very well, very organized, very regulated. … We do it every day. Frankly, I think the safest place on the planet to have bets on sports is the state of Nevada.”
An NFL spokesman confirmed to ESPN that the league has not made a request to Nevada Gaming Control, but did not elaborate on whether the league intends to do so in the future. NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman reportedly told MMQB.com’s Albert Breer that the league has not taken up the issue. The NHL is facing the same decision in regard to the Vegas Golden Knights and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the meantime, while Goodell remains publicly opposed to expanding legal sports betting in the U.S., NFL owners have increasingly begun to indicate that it’s time for the league to pivot on the issue.
MMQB.com quoted an anonymous AFC owner saying, “Sports betting is going to be legal. We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be aboveboard.”
Estimates of how much is bet on sports in the U.S. range from $150 billion to as much as $400 billion, and almost all of it is wagered in an unregulated market with offshore bookmakers and local bookies, who have gravitated away from the stereotypical backroom phone setups and to the internet. Industry experts estimate that less than 5 percent of the total amount wagered in the U.S. takes place in Nevada. There are efforts at the federal and state levels to strike down the prohibition on state-sponsored sports betting, and New Jersey has taken its legal battle with the sports leagues on the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Raiders’ move to Las Vegas isn’t expected to have much of an impact in those battles, but at minimum, it will give the NFL a consistent presence in a city it has shunned for decades.
“Looking back 10 years, 15 years, the prospect of having professional sports in Nevada was pretty bleak,” said Nevada State Sen. Mark Lipparelli, a former gaming control chairman. “Now, to think that we have two major league franchises established here, I think it’s got to be viewed as a positive light.”