Who would have believed it that the 32 billionaire NFL owners recognizing the importance of gambling to their success in making money off of their individual confederacy of players would turn to it, the one thing that would further undermine the integrity of their game.
Yesterday I wrote how the NFL was on the decline based on my own experience. If I knew this I knew these dull old men would also have recognized that their product is losing the interest of more and more people. It has become boring.
I was sure that they knew, as I did from my years of wiretapping gambling operations, that the only thing that keeps most of their fans from being bored is they have a stake in the game. I cannot count the times I heard people making bets say they could not watch an NFL game if they did not have some action on it.
During those days the guys (outside of Nevada) who provided an outlet for the many millions who wanted to place bets on the games so they could enjoy them were called criminals. Now they are called owners.
Back then we all pretended that the newspapers and television shows that set out the odds and picks on the games were not part and parcel of the millions of illegal gamblers. Weekly wagering on the NFL was in the billion dollar range.
One recent article noted: “The AGA reports that Americans made roughly $3.8 billion of illegal bets surrounding the Super Bowl played by the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks. Only $100 million was bet legally on that event.”
It also noted: “a total of $95 billion will be wagered on National Football League and college football games throughout the course of this season. A whopping $93 billion (or 98%) of that figure will be wagered through illegal channels.” My experience tells me that over 80% of those wagers will be on the NFL.
The NFL owners know they have a problem. They professed publicly to be opposed to legalizing gambling on football games; on the other hand they needed the gambling to keep up the interest of fans. They also had a secondary problem: they were producing a product and the illegal gamblers were benefiting mightily from it.
They decided to address the problem. Their first thought was to try to get a cut out of the illegal gambling proceeds. They knew the Mafia and others providing those service were not going to cut them in. Their plan was to pretend some type of gambling was legal while keeping the other types illegal. They hoped law enforcement would crack down on the illegal side while it aided them to make money on the other end.
The owners would tell us their gambling was good and the other was bad. A ready-made way to do this was through fantasy football that was invented in 1962. By the 1990s it involved millions of fans who played the game over the time it took for the NFL 16 games to be played. As fantasy football gained in popularity so did the interest in the NFL.
Each weekend the players would watch the games to see how their picks played. At the end of the season a winner would be announced. It was gambling just as picking the teams was gambling but the amounts wagered were done once and mostly were insignificant.
The owners decided to use that as a vehicle to more riches. They would take it over, jive it up to be a daily event, and make it too into a billion dollar gambling ring. They had to pretend it was not gambling.
Fortunately, because fantasy back in 2006 was considered nothing more than the March Madness type of betting, Congress while recognizing it was gambling decided not to regulate it as it did with other type of internet gambling.
They owners took a risk the authorities might not buy into their argument it was legal so they suggested it was not gambling but a game of skill even though anyone, skillful or not, could play it. The owners with their money and power figured they could handle any political opposition.
The other day Jerry Jones a big investor in the fantasy football gambling and owner of the NFL Team in Dallas said: “From my perspective, anything that follows the rules, that causes and creates more interest and more fan participation, I’m really for. So I’m a supporter and that’s the rules that we’ll test — is put your money where your mouth is.”
He went on to say: “I don’t think DraftKings or [competitor] FanDuel in any way compromise our players on the football field because it’s all fantasy. It has no bearing on the outcome of the game at all.” At the same time it is so benign the NFL limits players winnings to $250 while Major League Baseball and the NBA prohibit players from taking part. Isn’t that strange that those most skillful are not allowed to play this game of skill. Why the limit and prohibition if it has no bearing on the outcome of the game?
Jones is delusional thinking it won’t affect the game. It is easier to fix a fantasy outcome than a game. A dropped pass in a Monday night game; a missed block; a fumble; a referee call; could make the difference between some losing money or making millions. The temptation will be too great for some not to fall.