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Gambling finally becomes nonissue with NFL owners

By Ed Graney, Las Vegas Review-Journal

PHOENIX — For decades, the folks who owned NFL teams hardly portrayed themselves as bastions of progressive thought. There weren’t many John Deweys running around the fraternity house of billionaires.

They were more old school than transistor radios and leather helmets, more stubborn in their views than a petulant teenager.

And now, you might as well fit them for Saint Laurent sweaters and drop them in the front row of a Drake concert.

Can’t you see Jerry Jones and Mark Davis getting all crazy to “Hotline Bling”?

Perhaps more amazing than owners voting 31-1 on Monday in favor of allowing relocation for Davis and his Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas were topics of discussion that arose before the official announcement.

Or, more important, didn’t.

Several sources confirmed that gambling was barely mentioned — a few said not at all — and that the one thorn in the side of owners thought too big for Las Vegas to land a franchise was no longer visible.

What happened?

How did one incredibly significant issue go from owners abstaining from a forbidden fruit for so long to gorging on a Thanksgiving feast?

The easy and correct answer is money, that once Davis showed his peers a stadium deal highlighted by a $750 million tax subsidy, explaining to the world any fears of gambling and how it might negatively touch their shield with a team in Southern Nevada became a whole lot easier to digest.

But perhaps there is a deeper and more influential reason, and as much as Jones and his Dallas Cowboys are loathed by anyone without a heart shaped like a blue star, the fact he and others with like mindsets about gambling now represent the most powerful voices in the room means everything.

“The sensitivity toward (gambling) and the integrity of the game is still there, but Las Vegas in no way compromises that,” Jones said. “Las Vegas has evolved. It’s not your father’s Las Vegas. We’re very confident because of its (progressiveness) toward gambling. Gaming in Las Vegas was not a deterrent at all to this decision.”

This is what’s known as a breath of fresh air.

Education matters. Research matters. Taking time to understand and learn about a specific subject before forming an opinion matters.

The league didn’t change any of its rules in relation to gambling with the relocation vote, and the Raiders never asked it to, meaning if you see a player roaming around a sports book when the team arrives, don’t ask for a picture. He shouldn’t be there.

But while the NFL’s public views on gambling forever have been defined by a hypocritical stench given the ungodly amounts of money 32 franchises — indirectly and directly — make from sports betting, even those who have drawn the harshest of lines are now offering comments of growth.

“I think society in general has changed in respects to gambling,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday in officially adjoining the league’s annual spring meetings. “We’ve seen that. We still strongly oppose legalized gambling. We will not compromise on the integrity of our game. But you also have the regulatory of gambling there, which actually will be beneficial.

“I also believe Las Vegas isn’t the same city it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It’s a much more diverse city. It has become an entertainment mecca and the fastest-growing city in the country. I think when you look at what Las Vegas is today to what to was a decade or two ago, it’s a much different city. Obviously, the (owners) agreed overwhelmingly.”

It’s not good manners to arrive at one’s home and immediately remove your shoes and eat with your hands. To this point, Goodell said he doesn’t envision the league requesting of the Nevada Gaming Commission that books not allow action on games involving the Raiders once the team arrives in Las Vegas.

The request probably would be denied anyway, given bets on UNLV and UNR have been taken in Nevada for the past 17 years, not to mention NFL games in London and Mexico City being played in close proximity to sports books.

There would be no starting point for the NFL to even consider asking.

It’s true that progress is impossible without change, and whether it was $750 million in free money or the fact Jones is just that convincing when the doors close, the NFL in granting relocation to the Raiders smartly began burying some pretty archaic ways of thinking.

“It speaks volumes,” Westgate sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “The fact (gambling) wasn’t even mentioned when it was always at the forefront of any discussion about Las Vegas says a lot about the progress we have made as a very highly regulated industry, especially the sports books. Hats off to (the NFL) for understanding what we are about.”

Which isn’t transistor radios or leather helmets.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.