Perfect storm of events will force sports leagues to reassess their opposition to sports betting By Aaron Stanley July 27, 2015 at 4:18 pm The prohibition on sports betting in the U.S. has long been backed by the major sports leagues, most notably the National Football League. But the leagues are likely going to have to rethink their positions much sooner than they would prefer. Fallout from a canceled fantasy football conference in Las Vegas, revelations that NFL attorneys have argued that sports betting is actually a form of “skill-based” wagering, and an impending ruling in the New Jersey sports betting case have created a perfect storm that threatens the precarious tightrope the leagues have been walking on this issue. I won’t go so far as to use the word “hypocritical”, as others have, but there is clearly a dissonance between the leagues’ stated antipathy for sports gambling and their cozy relationship with and promotion of daily fantasy sports (DFS) games, a genre which a growing chorus of casino industry leaders has labeled as outright gambling. The leagues have remained staunch in their long-standing opposition to efforts to legalize or decriminalize sports betting, primarily because of the fear of match fixing. The most recent manifestation is the leagues uniting with the NCAA to contest New Jersey’s claim that it does not need to enforce federal prohibitions and can allow sports betting in its casinos. While the smaller leagues have offered some wiggle room, saying they might consider such legalization under the right circumstances, the NFL – the largest and most powerful league – has not yielded any ground. But much as Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has been forced onto the defensive by a continual and steady drip of unpleasant allegations about her email accounts and donations to her foundation while she was Secretary of State, the NFL’s fierce stated opposition to sports betting is being undercut by this flood of events and reports that shine an awkward light on the league’s inconsistent stance. An ESPN report last week revealed that the NFL has argued in the past for sports betting to be considered a game of skill, a legal distinction that could potentially put the activity into similar terrain as legal fantasy sports and therefore at odds with a prohibition against sports betting. ESPN also dug up testimony from former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, who many credit with building the sport into the powerhouse it is today, saying that sports gambling did no harm to the sport and that he himself had bet on college games. Further, the debacle surrounding the NFL’s attack on a fantasy football convention in June isn’t going to be easily forgotten, now that the organizers have filed a lawsuit against the league. The event, which was to be headlined by Tony Romo and was to feature one hundred other players, was not going to be held at a casino but rather at the Sands Expo center. Still, the NFL heavy-handedly threatened players who were going to attend, according to press reports. The league told the NFL Players’ Association that players who attended would be in breach of a league policy that prohibits promotional events at casinos. All of this comes at a time when roughly half of the NFL’s teams have forged official partnerships with either FanDuel or DraftKings, the two largest DFS operators. The other emerging trend is for new NFL stadiums to be built with fantasy football lounges where patrons can enjoy NFL Redzone, a special game day-only channel owned and operated by NFL Network, and can participate in fantasy tournaments as if they were sitting on their couch at home. But the NFL is not the only league toeing both sides of the line. Major League Baseball has taken a similar two-sided approach to daily fantasy sports. It has a partnership with DraftKings, and heavily promotes such contests, yet it does not allow its players to participate in DFS games. Depending on how a federal appeals court rules on the New Jersey sports betting case, the National Basketball Association could be forced into an uncomfortable stance as well. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has voiced his support for a federal framework for legalized and regulated sports betting, but New Jersey’s argument in the case is that regulation of gambling is an issue for the states, not the federal government. These events are compounded by the surging popularity and growth in the fantasy sports sphere, highlighted by the $300m fundraising round announced by this week by DraftKings as it continues its arms race with FanDuel. Yahoo became the first major fantasy provider to enter the space earlier this month, while PokerStars is reportedly planning to jump in this fall for the football season. With the current pace of events, there is simply too much movement for leagues to continue straddling both sides of the fence on the sports gambling question for much longer. Something has to give.