The United States Supreme Court ruled Monday morning that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) is unconstitutional, clearing the way for states to individually legalize gambling on sports.
It could also open the floodgates for professional sports organizations and teams to monetize and capitalize on a new opportunity to engage fans and make money. At the forefront of that discussion is the NFL, the most popular and successful league in the United States.
One of the immediate challenges presented is that the ruling will allow states to legalize and regulate gambling individually with different standards in different states. The NFL will ask Congress to “enact a core regulatory framework” that can create uniformity with sports gambling nationwide.
While the dust from the ruling Monday could take a while to settle, the long-term effects on the NFL could be significant.
What will the NFL do differently with legalized gambling?
For now, probably nothing.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the league will spend considerable time observing and planning its approach to new laws:
The NFL is unlikely to rush toward the biggest pot of dollars. It’s much more likely the league will think about how this will play out over the next 10 or 20 years, rather than immediate.
But MMQB’s Albert Breer wrote in March that NFL owners are already envisioning a world where gambling can be part of the in-game experience for fans. He painted a scenario where people in attendance at a game could use an app to place live prop bets on certain outcomes to be further engaged and invested in the outcome.
This is already a popular way to consume sports overseas with similar forms of betting available during European Premier League matches. Multiple NFL owners also have ownership stakes in EPL teams (Stan Kroenke — Rams and Arsenal; Malcolm Glazer — Buccaneers and Manchester United; Shad Khan — Jaguars and Fulham [relegated]) and are already familiar with that.
That probably won’t be a reality in the NFL any time soon — at least not in a way that’s officially sponsored and supported by the league. But it’s almost definitely on the horizon and has already been a topic of discussion with the Raiders’ upcoming relocation to Las Vegas creating a dialogue about gambling.
“In fact, [gambling does coexist with the NFL],” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in February 2017. “It’s happening today. It’s sponsored by governments. It exists throughout our world. What we have always said is we need to make sure that there’s a fine line between team-sports gambling and the NFL. We want to protect the integrity of our game, and that’s the line we will always do.”
The ruling Monday morning clears the way for a lot of money to be made by the NFL and its owners. NFL owners will meet May 21-23 in Atlanta and gambling will undoubtedly be at the center of many discussions.
Expect to hear the word “integrity” a lot
While the NFL stands to make a lot of money from the Supreme Court ruling, the league will have to combat the notion that more readily available gambling makes corruption more likely.
“What the league is trying to do in preparation for it is figure out how to maintain the integrity of the game, because that’s the most important thing on many, many fronts,” Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt told Breer in March. “And so they’re beginning their work on that. Obviously, there’s legalized betting that goes on in Europe in the Premier League, and other soccer leagues, so there are models they’re trying to learn from.”
After the ruling, the NFLPA released a statement that also mentioned the integrity of games:
Even the silliest prop bets could theoretically be taken advantage of by players, coaches, or officials who now have a better opportunity to capitalize on outcomes. On the other hand, the American Gaming Association estimated that Americans illegally wager about $150 billion on sports each year before the ruling. There were already plenty of easily accessible ways for corruption to occur and tons of money at stake.
Whether shady dealings happen or not, the NFL will set out to combat the skeptics.
Legalized gambling could impact NFL ratings and attendance
Gamblers are maybe the most voracious consumers of sports. With stakes on the line, fans will cling to every point scored and every second of the clock, even if the competition is otherwise boring or already decided. This is especially true among a younger generation of fans.
With more money on the line, the NFL could see an uptick in interest not just nationally, but internationally.
“It has a chance to elevate interest in the sport, especially in markets where our game is on at the wrong time of day,” Hunt told Breer. “If there’s increased sports betting, I think that could be one indirect positive for the league.”
The NFL has ventured into the United Kingdom with a handful of games there per year. There are still plenty of obstacles that make a team’s relocation overseas unlikely. But the legalization of gambling could help the league establish an increased international presence without exporting more games to the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In an increasingly interactive world, the NFL stands to profit from fans who are more interested in every detail of the happenings during a game. Just don’t expect the NFL to officially sanction those activities any time soon.
So when can you bet on the NFL?
You already can ... sort of.
Gambling has been legal in Las Vegas and betting online through websites based overseas was never difficult. But the ruling Monday paves the way for states to begin legalizing gambling too.
Five states — Connecticut, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia — already passed legislation that should allow them to move quickly to open up betting to residents. Several other states have introduced similar bills.
It will probably be a long time before sports betting is legalized in all 50 states, but the New York Post estimates as many as 10 could green-light gambling before the NFL season begins in September. Rapoport cited a research firm that estimates 32 states will likely offer sports betting within the next five years.
Unless you live in Las Vegas, online betting overseas and daily fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel will have to hold you over until your state makes gambling on sports legal.