ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

Why the NFL went all in on sports gambling

Feb 11, 2024, 4:00 PM | Updated: Feb 12, 2024, 12:52 pm

NFL Super Bowl LVIII football logos are projected on the side of Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and...

NFL Super Bowl LVIII football logos are projected on the side of Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel and Casino ahead of Sunday's game. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Image)

(Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Image)

Originally Published: 10 FEB 24 14:00 ET
Updated: 11 FEB 24 17:28 ET

New York (CNN) — Twenty-one years ago, the National Football League would not allow Super Bowl ads from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority because it didn’t want even a whiff of gambling associated with the sport. On Sunday, the NFL will hold its first Super Bowl in Las Vegas, a city built on gambling.

Even in 2003, gambling was as much a part of the NFL as tailgating, helmets and shoulder pads. Fans have been making bets on football since it was a semi-pro sport a century ago, when it was garnering far less attention than horse racing or boxing.

And with the wagering on football came a boost in visibility and, indirectly, revenue.

Despite moving its big game to Vegas, and partnering up with the companies focused on sports gambling, the NFL is still trying to keep the appearance of some distance between the sport and gaming. Players can be fined or even suspended if they place a bet at one of the Nevada’s many casinos or if they bet on league games, which was the case in June 2023.

Yet the change in the league’s relationship with sports gambling couldn’t be more obvious as it prepares for its first Super Bowl in Sin City.

“Obviously there’s a lot of hypocrisy going on here, but attitudes have changed a ton,” said Victor Matheson, professor of economics at the College of the Holy Cross, who teaches a class in The Economics of Gambling.

Sports betting has been a part of Nevada for decades but had been illegal everywhere else a Supreme Court decision in 2018 gave every state the chance to legalize it.

“After the Supreme Court decision … there was a pretty quick change,” Matheson said. “The leagues went all in.”

‘The world changed’

The NFL can point to the 2018 court decision to explain its embrace of the sector it once publicly shunned.

The NFL changed its stance “because the world changed” with the Supreme Court ruling, said league spokesman Jeff Miller at a pre-Super Bowl media briefing.

Betting sites Caesars, FanDuel and DraftKings are official partners and have agreements with the league just like Bud Light and other sponsors in that they can use the NFL logo in advertisements. Caesars Entertainment is the official casino sponsor of the NFL.

Miller says the NFL doesn’t get a cut of the amount wagered with these companies. But the NFL and its television rights holders, which pay the NFL more than $13 billion a year to broadcast games, have seen a boon from advertising by the legal gaming industry.

Gambling companies spent an estimated $508 million last year on television ads, according to MediaRadar, which tracks and estimates ad spending. That amount is not that far behind the $685 million that beer companies spend on television ads.

Not all that money was spent on ads during football games, but the NFL has by far the largest television audience of any sport or entertainment programming, which means its broadcasters are pocketing a lions’ share of the ad dollars.

That direct spending is only part of the way the NFL has learned to profit from legalized gambling.

Wagering helps hang onto viewers

Fans with even a modest bet on a game are more likely to stay tuned when the score gets lopsided, given they could still end up as winners depending on the nature of their wager.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that 68 million Americans will bet $23 billion on the Super Bowl, or an average of $340 by each bettor. The amount wagered is up 44% from a just a year ago. The AGA says nearly 28 million American adults, or one out of every nine, intends to wager with the legal sports books.

The NFL and other leagues have discovered that the growing amount wagered on games is key to building viewership in an age of greater competition between networks and streaming services.

“The NFL knows getting people involved monetarily is key to getting them hooked on the games,” Matheson said.

“In the era of streaming, there’s tremendous fragmentation of the audience for their video amusement,” said Andrew Zimbalist, professor emeritus of economics at Smith College and a leading expert on the economics of sports. “You hold onto (the audience) by allowing them to gamble.”

Zimbalist said the NFL didn’t lead the change of thinking. Rather, he points to the New York Times op-ed by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in 2014 calling for legalized gambling on sports as the sea change moment. The column came four years before the Supreme Court opened the door for legal sports gambling.

Not every state allows betting on sports. It’s still illegal in two of the largest – California and Texas. Efforts to legalize sports betting in Texas have failed twice recently. But it’s now legal in 38 states plus the District of Columbia. In most of those states, a bet can be placed from a smart phone.

Zimbalist said beyond the financial risks posed by those suffering from a gambling addiction, sports leagues face risks if fans see games as simply a way to wager, rather than something for which they can form an emotional bond.

“Sports has long been a way of bringing people together,” he said. Even fans of opposing teams can argue about sports without it becoming as contentious as other issues splitting society today, such as politics or the Middle East war, he said.

“That’s one of sports’ greatest values,” he said. “But I’m concerned that gambling is going to undo that.”

CNN’s Alicia Wallace contributed to this report.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Arts + Entertainment

Arraignment for driver, Kent Cody Barlow today...

Heather Peterson, Diana Jones

Arraignment for driver accused of killing two boys in Eagle Mountain on Wednesday

The accused, Kent Cody Barlow, was reportedly driving over 100 mph when he crashed into Cedar Valley Stables.

1 day ago

LA Clippers executive board member Jerry West attends a game between the Orlando Magic and the Hous...

Devin Oldroyd

Inspiration behind NBA logo, Jerry West dies at 86

The inspiration for the NBA's logo and famed former basketball player Jerry West has died. West was 86-years-old. 

1 day ago

A rendering of a proposed "sports, entertainment, culture and convention center" surrounding Delta ...

Carter Williams, ksl.com

Delta Center renovations could begin next year. Here’s what some of Smith’s plans look like

Construction to remodel the Delta Center could begin as early as April 2025, Smith Entertainment Group officials said Tuesday.

1 day ago

The Delta Center is pictured in Salt Lake City....

LINDSAY AERTS

Smith Entertainment Group reveals new details about Salt Lake revitalization plan

In an interview with KSL TV, Smith Entertainment Group revealed more details of their planned revitalization of Downtown Salt Lake City.

2 days ago

The Rasmussen siblings pictured. The season finale of The Letter season 2 explores their wrestle wi...

Amy Donaldson

In Season Finale of The Letter Season 2, families have to decide if they misjudged killer

The season finale of The Letter Season 2 is out now - listen to it and read more behind the episode about the family's reaction.

2 days ago

Chris Jay and and "Army of Freshmen" from Ventura, California play Kilby Court Sunday June 15, 2003...

Josuee Sanchez

Heavy metal isn’t as damaging to the voice as you may think

Heavy Metal singers might sound like they're screaming, but it's not damaging their voices the way a normal scream might.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...

Comcast

Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Why the NFL went all in on sports gambling