Shaw's losing bet is nothing compared to the NFL's bigger gambling bet

Ron Borges

It didn’t take long for the NFL’s cozy relationship with casinos and legalized sports betting to blow up in their collective faces.

The question now is: Do the avaricious men who own and run the NFL look at the Josh Shaw gambling suspension as a warning before their growing connection to gambling turns into a kill shot to the game, or do they shrug their shoulders and look at him as an outlier?

Don’t bet against them lying to themselves about what Shaw’s suspension for betting against his own team really means.

Three years after Pete Rozelle took over as NFL commissioner following the sudden death of Bert Bell, he said, “This sport has grown so quickly and gained so much of the approval of the American public that the only way it can be hurt is through gambling.’’

Thirteen years later, Rozelle, by then viewed as the greatest commissioner in sports history, testified in a case looking to block the state of Delaware from creating a sports lottery.

"I have frequently expressed my opinion," he said, "that legalized gambling on sporting events are destructive of the sports themselves and, in the long run, injurious to the public.’’

Contrast those words with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins urging their fans to support a bill legalizing sports betting in Florida last year. Contrast such dire warnings with the decisions of the Raiders, Cowboys, Ravens and Jets to partner with casinos, and the Cowboys and Patriots choosing to invest in fantasy gaming operations Fan Duel and Draft Kings.

Lastly, contrast Rozelle’s statements with the NFL’s decision in January to make Caesars Entertainment its first official casino partner. And where did Shaw make his bets? At the league’s first official casino partner, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

How does the NFL spell hypocrisy? C-a-e-s-a-r-s.

Once you go into business with those who run gaming operations you signal to your players that gambling is just part of the show. It’s the same type of hypocrisy that led to so many NFL players suspended for smoking weed when they play for teams loading them up with opiates every weekend to get them through a game.

According to the allegations against Shaw, an Arizona Cardinals’ defensive back currently on injured reserve and who has not played all season, he made a three-team parlay on teams covering second-half spreads. One was Arizona’s game against the Bucs where he bet on Tampa.

He made those bets at Caesars at the same time he applied for an account at its sportsbook in his own name while listing his occupation as “pro football player.’’ At that moment, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could have skipped the gambling charge and just suspended him a year for stupidity.

Shaw lost his bet and raised red flags at Caesars, which reported him to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and the league once it realized his occupation. Goodell quickly suspended Shaw through at least the 2020 season because the NFL continues to insist its players are banned from betting on pro football even though their bosses are in league with the casinos and other gambling sites that take those bets.

Regardless of what Shaw’s contract says about gambling, one can see how he could easily conclude, “What’s the problem? We’re all in this together, right?


The owners are in business with sports gambling. The Raiders move to the gambling capital of America next year when they abandon Oakland for Las Vegas , where the bulk of their signage and luxury-box income will come, directly or indirectly, from people involved in gaming.

But a player makes a parlay bet on second-half spreads, and he’s a degenerate gambler putting the shield at risk? Go figure.

“The continued success of the NFL depends directly on each of us doing everything necessary to safeguard the integrity of the game and the reputations of all who participate in the league," Goodell said in a release announcing Shaw’s suspension. "At the core of this responsibility is the longstanding principle that betting on NFL games, or on any element of a game, puts at risk the integrity of the game, damages public confidence in the NFL, and is forbidden under all circumstances. If you work in the NFL in any capacity, you may not bet on NFL football."

In other words, owners can partner with casino operators, invest in fantasy gambling sites and move a franchise to a city whose only industry is gambling, and that does not put the integrity of the game at risk. But a defensive back who hasn’t played a minute all season makes a parlay bet, and he’s a threat.

The truth is that players, coaches or officials gambling on a game’s outcome is a threat, but so, too, is the NFL’s corporate embrace of casino, fantasy and legalized sports betting. The truth is that if you lie down with dogs you get fleas. If you normalize business relationships with those who run legalized gambling in America you get problems.

Josh Shaw won’t be the last. He’ll be the warning shot nobody heeded until it was too late to avoid Pete Rozelle’s greatest fear becoming a menacing reality.

Comments (3)
No. 1-2

Ron, really good article that explores the hypocrisy well. The unfortunate fact about the NFL is that it seems to have turned a blind eye to gambling issues with owners. HoF owners Tim Mara and Art Rooney are exhibits A and B. And the transgressions committed by Paul Hornung and Alex Karras (not to mention much of the Lions team at the time including John Gordy and Joe Schmidt) would have resulted in lifetime bans in MLB (even MLB owners are not exempt — this happened to Phillies owner William Cox in 1943). Football has never been as strict on this issue, perhaps because of folks like Rooney and Mara.

Ron Borges
Ron Borges


It has always been thus. One set of rules for owners, another for players.

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