Article Oct 1, 2015

The NFL commissioner has a gambling problem

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has stated repeatedly his opposition to legalized gambling, asserting that the league’s opposition will not change because of vigilance in protecting the integrity of the game on his watch. After hearing the commissioner’s comments, one would assume that he is morally outraged by the incessant commercials from FanDuel and DraftKings urging fans to participate in fantasy football gambling. After all, the sales pitches they make are not exactly nuanced and subtle:

“Daily fantasy sports for cash!”

“Chris Prince from Detroit has won $724,938!”

“We're huge - $75 million+ paid out to winners a week this season.”

“You can win a shipload of money.”

Nevertheless, Goodell, the guardian of the integrity of the game, says he does not consider these leagues gambling. Goodell said, “We don’t put fantasy football in that [gambling] category at all...Fantasy has a way of people engaging more with football, and they do it in a fun, friendly, in this case, a family manner." The commissioner would have us believe that his implicit support of these fantasy football operations has nothing to do with the ratings and money fantasy football generates for the NFL; it is merely about building stronger families.

In reality, these fantasy football gambling leagues are affecting families by relentlessly catechizing an entire generation watching these NFL games on the acceptability and excitement of sports gambling. How does the NFL get around the reality that these leagues constitute gambling? These fantasy leagues for cash debuted in 1997 and exist basis on the basis of a legal technicality. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) defines bets and wagers to include bets for contests, sporting events, games predominantly subject to chance. In other words, these fantasy sports gambling operations hide behind the notion that they are games of skill, not chance.

Instead of calling these fantasy leagues’ bluff on the dubious assertion that they do not constitute gambling, the NFL has aided these leagues with legal support. NFL lawyers have argued in legal proceedings, “Sports betting combines both skill and chance, but the element of chance, though perhaps significant, is not 'dominant.’” That argument would open the door to the acceptance of almost all forms of sports gambling, not simply fantasy leagues. Thus, the NFL officially takes a hard stance against sports gambling while at the same time reaping the benefits of fantasy football gambling interests and advocating for gambling behind closed doors.

These fantasy sports leagues are not a small industry. According to a September 16, 2015, report in Forbes, “Draftkings spent more on television commercials than any other company in the U.S. this past week.” Traditional fantasy football is harmless, enjoyed by millions, involves drafting a team at the beginning of the season, but in gambling fantasy leagues, you can draft a new team every day with daily cash payouts. Who knows?; you may get lucky, or as they would have us believe, get skill tomorrow if you lose today? Forbes continues to explain, “Eilers Research CEO Todd Eilers estimates ‘that daily games will generate around $2.6 billion in entry fees this year and grow 41 [percent] annually, reaching $14.4 billion in 2020.’”

Fantasy sports likely began with Harvard University professor William Gamson developing what he called “The Baseball Seminar,” which later came to be known as “Rotisserie baseball” and now “Fantasy baseball.” The hobby fit well with statistically minded baseball fans and had a small but loyal band of followers until the phenomenon of Internet in almost every home accelerated its growth in baseball and all other major sports.

Gambling entrepreneurs have turned a geekish and fun hobby into a relentless, daily, predatory lure of fast cash and easy money. The NFL relationship with these fantasy gambling leagues is so cozy USA Today recently reported, “FanDuel, the nation's biggest daily fantasy sports company, has signed multi-year sponsorship agreements with 15 NFL teams.” This should deeply trouble those of us who love Jesus and delight in sports as a good gift from God.

Simply put, gambling is a societal evil that preys on those most in need. While some may say, “You don't have to participate in gambling, so it’s nothing to be concerned about,” that way of thinking does not hold for one who desires to follow Christ. Our Lord does not call us to love ourselves; rather, we are to love him and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37-40).

The biblical witness is clear that one of the vital ways we love God is by loving our neighbor. Gambling appeals to greed, and there is simply no way for a follower of Jesus to gamble to the glory of God and the good of his neighbor. Proverbs 28:25 says, “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” Anyone who has ever witnessed the devastation wrought by people who gamble their future away, attempting to get something-for-nothing, knows well the expansive tornadic path of destruction gambling greed produces.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is on the other side of the gambling question from me, but we both agree in assessing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the fantasy football gambling issue, “Hypocrisy, thy name is Roger Goodell.” Roger Goodell officially opposes sports gambling in the name of the integrity of the game, because he is concerned about a loss of profits in the long term, while endorsing re-named gambling that helps him to leverage profits in the short term, and worst of all, he has the audacity to do so in the name of wholesome family bonding.

A word of advice Commissioner Goodell, gambling that people are too gullible to see the NFL’s hypocrisy on your watch, is a bad bet.

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