Fractures appearing in NFL’s anti-gambling wall, but the structure is far from crumbling By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports January 8, 2019 at 8:00 pm One simple gesture along the Strip during the week prior to Feb. 3 will let us know if the National Football League’s long-standing hostility toward Las Vegas – and anything related to sports betting – has ended. If the marquee in front of Caesars Palace advertises the resort’s “Super Bowl Party,” then it’s safe to say we’ve entered a new era of cooperation. Otherwise, it’s probably business as usual. Last week, the NFL and Caesars Entertainment announced a first-ever sponsorship agreement between the league and the casino giant. The three-year deal – valued at $30 million a year, according to the Associated Press – concentrates on non-gaming attractions. Sports betting and daily fantasy sports are not part of the arrangement. That fact didn’t bother some observers. Macquarie Securities analyst Chad Beynon said the relationship “will naturally draw more attention” to the sports book, even though the contract doesn’t include any provisions for sports gambling. The NFL and Las Vegas have long had a love-hate relationship. Deep down, NFL management knows the betting lines and point spreads attached to its games drive fan interest, but the league hasn’t yet been able to figure a way to grab a piece of the action. The Super Bowl, of course, is the annual grand carnival of football and betting. During the 1980s and 1990s, Strip casinos offered lavish Super Bowl parties where customers could pay an entry fee to dine on sumptuous buffets and hobnob with retired and current NFL players and coaches who offered commentary as the game was shown on big screens. The casinos also expected those patrons to bet a C-note or two on the game, and maybe one or two of the hundreds of available proposition wagers. The NFL put a stop to the parties when league attorneys said casinos couldn’t charge a fee to watch a game that was otherwise free to anyone who owned a television set. And, with the Super Bowl name trademarked, casinos could no longer use the title in any advertisements or promotions. In recent years, Strip casinos have invited customers to attend “Big Game” free-to-watch parties. The over-the-top buffets were replaced by hot dogs. The casinos haven’t suffered. Since 2009, Super Bowl wagering in Nevada has increased in every year but one, with 2018’s record $158.6 million handle shattering 2017’s record by almost 13 percent. The NFL was so anti-gambling at the time that, in 1996, when Super Bowl XXX was held in Phoenix, the league rejected advertising requests from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority for high-priced space in the game’s official program. Instead, the tourism bureau shrink-wrapped a Phoenix transit bus with colorful Las Vegas advertisements that traveled around the city. However, May’s Supreme Court decision allowing states to legalize and regulate sports betting has changed the playing field. Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and an Indian casino in New Mexico have joined Nevada in opening legal sports books, and up to a dozen other states could launch regulated sports betting this year. The NFL, which has sought to either slow the state-by-state expansion or seek some type of payment for the use of official league data, can no longer ignore the many cracks in its anti-gambling wall. Caesars operates nearly 40 properties in 13 states under the Caesars, Harrah’s, Horseshoe and Bally’s brands. Seven NFL teams – the Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles – have marketing relationships with the company’s casinos. The Dallas Cowboys and the WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma – the largest casino in the country, operated by the Chickasaw Nation Tribe – announced a partnership deal in September. A similar deal was announced a few months later between MGM Resorts International and the New York Jets. By far the largest fracture to the wall is the $1.8 billion Las Vegas Stadium currently under construction in the backdrop of the Las Vegas Strip. The 65,000-seat domed stadium will become home to the relocated Las Vegas Raiders in 2020. Caesars was the first casino company to sign a partnership deal with the stadium; other gaming companies are expected to follow suit. The Raiders may be homeless next season – a one-year stadium deal with Oakland is falling apart, and though various other possibilities have been floated, none of them are any more than hypothetical at the moment. The NFL could make a bold statement by having the Raiders play this fall at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, rather than San Diego, San Antonio, Santa Clara, London or any of the other alternatives being proposed. Sure, the stadium is old, far from the Las Vegas Strip, and seats just 40,000. Still, it’s larger than the 27,000-seat soccer stadium where the Los Angeles Chargers are currently housed. Such a move would send a far stronger message than just letting a casino host a Super Bowl party. Still, if Caesars Palace uses the Super Bowl trademark in their advertisements in the week running up to the game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, then – according to UNLV Center for Gaming Research Director David G. Schwartz – the deal between Caesars and the NFL “speaks volumes about the increasing rapprochement between the leagues and gambling interests.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.