NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL Unions Prepare for Sports Gambling
The players unions of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB aren’t sure when sports gambling will be legalized. But they see it as a matter of if, not when. So they’re not going to waste time getting prepared.
The MMQB has learned that the four unions have had a number of formal meetings in New York over the past year-and-a-half to discuss the potential ramifications that legalized sports gambling could present for their players.
“Yes, the sports unions have been discussing the issue, in particular around the integrity of our respective games,” NFLPA executive George Atallah said Thursday afternoon. “We’re collaborating on it. We might be open to changes that are coming because of (legalized sports gambling), but before we get to the revenue aspect of it, do we have the infrastructure in place to prevent any sort of shenanigans? That’s the issue.”
Atallah said the unions have started looking at how legalized sports gambling and those associated issues are handled overseas in areas where it’s been legal for decades. They’re also monitoring legislation in New Jersey, which has been the primary battleground for legalized sports gambling.
Nevada remains the only state where sports gambling is legal, and the sports leagues are about to set down roots there for the first time. The NHL’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights begin play this fall. The NFL’s Raiders will move from Oakland and into a new $1.9 billion stadium there in 2020, and could be there sooner depending on what happens with their lease in the Bay Area.
Meanwhile, the NBA held its All-Star Game in Vegas in 2007, and commissioner Adam Silver has come out as a proponent of legalizing sports gambling.
All of that signifies change, as Vegas was long seen as a forbidden land for professional sports. And while the NFL’s comments publicly have been far more conservative than Silver’s, there was a quiet admission from NFL owners—before they unanimously voted the Raiders’ move to Vegas—that a sea change was coming.
“From a gambling standpoint? That’s a joke to even say that’d be a problem,” one AFC owner told The MMQB in late March. “That was an issue decades ago. Now? Sports gambling is going to be legal. We might as well embrace it and become part of the solution, rather than fight it. It’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be above board.”
“The first question, naturally, is going to be about gambling,” said an NFC owner. “But any of us can pull our phones out of our pockets and place a bet right now. (The concern) is not 100 percent put to bed, but it’s relatively put to bed, just because of technology today.”
The sports-gambling summits over the past 18 months have been attended by the executive directors of the four unions—the NFLPA’s DeMaurice Smith, the MLBPA’s Tony Clark, the NBPA’s Michele Roberts and the NHLPA’s Donald Fehr—and are just another acknowledgment of what’s likely not far off.
“For us, it’s about getting the right infrastructure in place,” said Atallah. “Before we get to the revenue splits, how do you monitor behavior like they do in other parts of the world to ensure what we’re all watching isn’t fixed? That’s the question.”
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