Why the NFL Stopped Seeing Gambling as a Threat—and Started to See a Windfall

Even ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the league had shifted its focus to how sports betting could help grow football in the NFL’s most coveted demographics

The arrival of legal gambling comes at a moment when the NFL’s grip on the American public is weakening. PHOTO: PAUL KURODA/ZUMA PRESS

By Andrew Beaton

For decades, the NFL’s high-level conversations about legalizing sports betting centered only on how problematic it would be. Now that the reality of legal wagering is here, the league is suddenly shifting its focus to how gambling can help stanch the erosion of its audience—and grow its sport to even greater heights.

The NFL was long resolute in its belief that legal sports gambling would be a threat to its integrity, even as the NBA and others warmed to the idea. Just last year, when NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas, commissioner Roger Goodell made the league’s stance clear: “We still strongly oppose, in that room and otherwise, legalized sports gambling,” he said.

But when the owners met this March, the conversation had completely shifted. A future with legalized sports betting was on the horizon, whether they liked it or not. That future shifted into the present Monday when the Supreme Court struck down the law that prohibits the practice in most parts of the country.

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