- - Thursday, November 30, 2017


On Monday, lawyers for the state of New Jersey are going to walk into the United States Supreme Court and offer the drowning NFL a life vest.

And the NFL is going to argue that it would rather flop around in the choppy waters of falling television ratings and empty stadium seats than embrace a way to kick-start interest again in their product.

New Jersey contends that the 1992 federal law banning sports betting nationwide — save for Nevada and the three other states where it had already existed in some form on the books — should not keep the state from putting into action the 2012 law they passed legalizing sports betting specifically in casinos and race tracks.

The federal government — yes, even under former casino owner Donald Trump — will argue against New Jersey and its governor, Trump ally Chris Christie. And they will be joined in court documents by the NFL, which is still operating under the premise that it is protecting a growing business rather than trying to save a dying one.

“I think we still strongly oppose [among ownership] legalized sports gambling,” Goodell told reporters in April – after they had approved the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas. Yes, that’s right. Las Vegas.

“The integrity of our game is No. 1,” Goodell said. “We will not compromise on that.”

Roger, it’s not 1963. The league is not trying to protect itself any longer from outside forces that could bring it down before it ever got started.

No, the league should be in the mode of trying to protect itself from outside forces that could tear down what they built.

It was television that built the NFL — and now it is television that is tearing it down.

What league owners once feared was that gambling would be the outside force that would bring down the NFL. Now it could help save it.

The NFL is in full downward spiral. Television ratings continue to drop, stadiums have empty seats, national anthem protests are turning off some fans and have sparked a war with President Trump, and then there is the unanswered crisis of concussions. You could make the case that there are two things keeping the NFL afloat — fantasy football and gambling.

New Jersey wants to make it easier to do one of those — gambling, although sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between fantasy football and legalized betting.

The American Gaming Association estimates that at least $150 billion is bet illegally on sports in the United States. With the internet and offshore sports books, it is easier than ever to bet on sports and break the law, such as it is. But to take away the roadblock of the law — to put sports books just a drive or click away, with advertising now promoting what was once hidden — that pot would certainly grow, along with interest in the NFL, and, most importantly, money for government expenses.

Compared to taxes, politicians generally love gambling because the public is giving them money (the government always gets its cut, after all). With taxes, they have to take it from you.

That makes the 1992 federal law banning legalized sports betting all the more bizarre. It was an anomaly, a reaction by Congress to the lobbying of a group of conservative ministers, a leftover from the Moral Majority that cowed lawmakers into taking money out of state and local governments all across the country. It was fear.

Now, if there is anything to fear from legalized gambling, it is too late. The horse has long been out of the barn.

The NFL should consider that horse a winner and bet on it. Instead, they are acting like it is 1963, when the league was on the brink of its explosion as a multi-billion business, and had concerns that organized crime could cause irreparable damage to the growth of the league. That’s why the league suspended two of its star players –Green Bay running back Paul Hornung and Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras — for the entire 1963 season for betting on NFL games.

At the time, the NFL couldn’t afford to be associated with gambling.

Now the league may not be able to afford not to be.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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