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Ex-NFL exec: 'We have to stop burying our heads in the sand about gambling'

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA, the federal statute that stopped states from legalizing sports betting, the impact on the major pro sports leagues has been profound. The NBA quickly announced a betting partnership with casino giant MGM. The NHL made daily fantasy sports company FanDuel, now owned by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair, its betting partner.

But the NFL has been mostly silent.

Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL all advocated the need for “integrity fees” in the time leading up to the SCOTUS decision—the idea that the leagues should get paid a small percentage fee from every legal bet placed on their games. The NFL did not join that chorus.

Michael Lombardi, who spent 30 years working in the NFL, thinks that’s a problem.

“We have to stop burying our heads in the sand about this gambling thing,” Lombardi said on this week’s episode of the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast. “It’s ridiculous. Football is a passionate sport, fans love it, fantasy football makes it even better.” (Listen to Lombardi’s podcast interview at the bottom of this post.)

Michael Lombardi, assistant to the coaching staff of the New England Patriots, shakes hands with head coach Bill Belichick before a preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., on Aug. 7, 2014. (AP/Alex Brandon)

The NFL in Vegas

Lombardi (no relation to coaching legend Vince Lombardi) worked as a scout in the 1980s for the 49ers and the Browns, then was director of player personnel for the Raiders for nearly a decade, then a personnel executive for the Browns, and he ended his career as an assistant to the coaching staff on the Patriots.

In addition to being bullish on legalized betting for the NFL in general, he also thinks the league will thrive in Las Vegas—an opinion not universally shared among NFL pundits.

“My first job was at UNLV, so I know Vegas,” he says. “It’s a town that doesn’t really have its roots in any particular team, so I could see, when the Raiders play the Bears in Las Vegas, the stadium being half-filled with Bears fans. I think it’s going to be a great venue for the melting pot of the NFL.”

Then again, Lombardi says legendary Raiders owner Al Davis (who died in 2011) would not have been a fan of moving the team to Las Vegas, which his son Mark has done.

Al loved Vegas,” Lombardi says. “He loved the restaurants in Vegas, he loved the entertainment in Vegas. I don’t know if he would like his team in Vegas. And I’m not sure he would agree with paying a coach $10 million a year, that wasn’t what Al was about. There’s no way. Nor would he allow the coach to have complete autonomy to run the organization.”

How football dynasties are made

In his time in the NFL, Lombardi won three Super Bowl rings. He writes about what he learned in the new book, “Gridiron Genius: A Master Class in Winning Championships and Building Dynasties in the NFL.”

Lombardi says coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots provide the ultimate lesson in how to win in America’s biggest sport.

At the Patriots organization, Lombardi says, “You are an employee. We’re all employees… You’re educated as how to behave, how to be a Patriot, what’s expected of you. How do you perform at your job if you don’t know what your job is? Belichick’s details cover all that. He talks to the players about how to handle the media, he talks to the players about what’s expected, he coaches them, he’s not afraid of confrontation or to say, ‘You’re not doing this well.’ There’s nothing left to chance.”

Indeed, NFL veteran Martellus Bennett, who won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, told Yahoo Finance in April that the Patriots were the only team he played for that gave him an employee handbook when he joined, much like a company.

Lombardi confirms, “When I came back to Bill in 2014 [with the Patriots], the player handbook was the same player handbook Belichick used with the Browns in 1991.”

Listen to Mike Lombardi on the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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