Legal sports betting offers opportunities to heal old wounds By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports August 28, 2019 at 2:47 am I’m waiting for the first casino to offer NFL Hall of Famer and Green Bay Packers great Paul Hornung the chance to place the location’s first legal sports wager. Over the next week and a half, every new sportsbook in Iowa, Indiana and New York seems to have scheduled a retired NFL great to kick off the betting action. “The Golden Boy,” now 83, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner and a four-time NFL champion with the Packers, was also part of the game’s biggest sports betting scandal, if you want to call it that. Paul Horning’s 1961 Topps football card In 1963, Hornung and the late Alex Karras, then an all-pro defensive lineman with the Detroit Lions, were caught placing $500 each in total wagers on NFL games with illegal bookmakers. Neither player bet on games involving their own teams, and both apologized. They were nevertheless suspended by then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle for one season. The league has long rejected even the slightest association with any form of gambling. In 1969, Rozelle forced New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath to sell his ownership stake in a New York City nightclub frequented by illegal bookmakers and other sordid individuals. The NFL also long disavowed any association with Las Vegas, not only blocking Super Bowl parties from being held there but refusing to allow the city’s tourism bureau to advertise during the championship game. But with regulated sportsbooks now available in a dozen states – and with more likely on the way – the NFL is reluctantly having to accept that legal sports betting is here to stay. This weekend, Indiana will become the 13th state – following Iowa and Oregon – to begin offering legal sports wagering following the repeal of the federal ban on the activity by the U.S. Supreme Court 15 months ago. In many locations, retired athletes will make the initial wagers as a ribbon cutting of sorts. The idea is to attract the fanbase from nearby markets. For example, at Boyd Gaming Corp.’s Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana – a little more than a one-hour drive from Chicago – retired Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher will make the initial wager at the sportsbook operated by FanDuel on Sept. 5. Not to be outdone, Penn National Gaming will open a sportsbook on Sunday at its Ameristar Casino East Chicago in Northwest Indiana, roughly a 40-minute drive from downtown Chicago. Two former Chicago Bears legends, coach Mike Ditka and kick returner Devin Hester, will be on hand to place the first wagers. “The passion for Indiana and Illinois sports teams runs deep in this region, and we look forward to becoming a destination for fans all year-round,” said Matt Schuffert, general manager at Ameristar Casino East Chicago. Meanwhile, Boyd’s casino in Northern Iowa is using a former Minnesota Vikings player to attract customers from the Twin Cities, and Boyd and Penn National are using former members of the Cincinnati Bengals to open sports betting at the companies’ southern Indiana casinos, which draw business from the Ohio market. The idea is not new. Casinos in Mississippi a year ago had former New Orleans Saints standouts placing the initial bets at Gulf Coast sportsbooks. Last week, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb – a standout at Syracuse University – placed a $100 wager on his former NFL team to win the Super Bowl, helping to open the sportsbook at New York’s del Lago Resort and Casino. Competition for the sports betting audience is growing. Last week, the American Gaming Association said more than $10 billion had been wagered legally on sporting events since the Supreme Court decision. With five more states on the cusp of launching regulated sports books, the Washington D.C. trade organization said nearly one out of every three Americans will soon live in a state that has a legal sports book or books. That fact is helping lessen the dependence on illegal sports betting, either through illegal bookies or on unregulated offshore websites. “It’s clear that more Americans than ever are taking advantage of having a safe, regulated alternative to the dangerous, illegal market, resulting in nearly $77 million in tax revenue for state and local economies,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller. The NFL has had no choice but to soften its view of gambling as teams signed marketing deals with casinos, notably in September 2018, when the Dallas Cowboys announced a historic partnership agreement with the Chickasaw Nation Tribe’s WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma. In January, the NFL and Caesars Entertainment signed a multi-year sponsorship deal noteworthy for three words it didn’t include – legal sports wagering. The focus was on the company’s non-gaming attractions, but the agreement does allow Caesars’ Strip casinos to use the name “Super Bowl” in marketing activities surrounding the game. Also, the 2020 NFL Draft will be held in Las Vegas. Hornung made illegal bets 56 years ago. Hopefully a casino will soon give him a chance to publicly place a legal sports wager. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.