Does the NFL Still Hold a High Moral Ground on Betting?

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The NFL has taken a fair amount of heat over its recent decision to allows its teams to partner with state lotteries. In fact, some have suggested that the league no longer has the moral high ground in its tough stance against gambling.

Most recently, thejetsblog.com pooh-bah Brian Bassett rips the NFL for the double standard.

The league is certainly open to scrutiny over the issue, although I'm not quite as anti-lottery. I do have some questions, though, and buttonholed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after a press briefing at the new Giants/Jets stadium earlier today.

Here's what he had to say.

"We think there's a big distinction between gambling on team sports and the outcome of those team sports and lotteries. We're the last of many industries, including others in professional sports, to get involved in it. We've been encouraged by public officials that by lending our trademarks in some fashion can help generate revenue that can be good for states, and that money is going back to education and other things. So it's a positive thing. It would also create revenue for us. But we think that the distinction between state lotteries and gambling on the outcome of sports are completely different issues for us."

I asked Goodell if there was a double standard at work here, bringing up the fact that casinos are legal, and while some in Las Vegas allow betting on outcomes of games, others - in New Jersey, for instance - do not. So why maintain a distance from them?

"We're not trying to make a social statement whether gambling is good, bad or indifferent. We're a professional football league. All we know is how it impacts on us. The issue is that legal or illegal sports gambling on the outcome or our games does impact us and the integrity of our game and we want people to understand that it's something we remain opposed to. The lotteries are something that's become more and more involved as stadiums are getting built. People are using lottery revenues to build stadiums and using lottery revenues for educational purposes. It's something that's become accepted in our world. We have not crossed over the line to casinos. We take a very strong view on trying to keep an arm's distance from them." 

I then brought up the NFL's insistence that part of the recent restructuring of the Steelers' ownership situation required that Yonkers Raceway, which is owned by Dan Rooney's nephew, Tim, and now offers a casino-like setup that includes slot machines, be removed from the team's financial umbrella. After all, the slots are permitted under New York State law, and there is no betting on games.

"As gambling has developed, they're putting casinos and slots into horse tracks," Goodell said. "They're becoming more casino types with horse racing. The Rooneys have an interest in horse tracks and dog racing. That's one of the areas where they were in violation of NFL policy - being in an ownership position of casino type gambling. That's why they were asked to sell the franchise ... We don't think anyone in an ownership position should be owning an NFL franchise and owning a gambling institution. That's the ownership decision. We should be far enough away from it."

More on the distinction between gambling and lotteries: "[With lotteries], it's a game of chance and it's a scratch off. The outcome of our game, that's a much different issue. We're not making a statement about nobody should gamble. That's not our business. We're not trying to be high and mighty on that. What we're saying is that from an NFL and an ownership standpoint, we are not going to be involved in gambling. We're doing it on a very limited basis, because people do accept that it's different than sports betting. I think anyone would acknowledge that."

On preserving the integrity of the NFL: "The integrity of our game is critical. We would never want that to be influenced. The integrity of our officials, our game, anything involved with the outcome of our game, we would want to keep a distance from. That's why we've always maintained a distance from gambling. The lottery, we have made this limited exception because it is not based on the outcome of our game. It's simply a game of scratch-off. It has nothing to do with what people consider legalized sports betting."

Bob Glauber, Newsday

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