American pro sports leagues like the NHL and NFL are warming to Sin City. And one fifth of people appear to be wary of the shift.
In a national survey of 687 adults, conducted this week by Seton Hall University and first shared with Yahoo Finance, 21% said they believe the NFL’s decision to allow the Oakland Raiders to move to Las Vegas will tarnish the league’s reputation.
Depending on your views about gambling, that figure might be unsurprising, or it might seem surprisingly low. But to the NFL, which is so conscious of its image (especially true of commissioner Roger Goodell, whose mantra is “protect the shield”), it is likely not negligible. One in five people is no small slice. Last season the NFL saw a significant drop in its average primetime television ratings; it does not need any more damage to its image among fans at the moment.
Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, calls 21% a “high negative” result.
“It’s an eye-opening number,” he says. “Rob Manfred said recently that the ‘stigma’ of being in Vegas is gone. Not based on our poll, it isn’t.” (Indeed, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told Fox Business last week, “We’re past the stigma” of having a team in Las Vegas; earlier this year, he told Yahoo Finance, “We are re-examining our stance on gambling.”)
Perhaps the more interesting number to come from the poll: 46% of respondents believe that having a team in Las Vegas will “increase the likelihood of players, referees or team officials gambling on the outcome of games.”
NFL policy, of course, forbids players from placing bets on games. If any players or referees in Las Vegas are caught betting on their own games, it would constitute a crisis for the NFL. In 2007, NBA ref Tim Donaghy pleaded guilty to betting on games he officiated. Donaghy also claimed that 100% of NBA refs bet on the games they work.
The NFL was long resistant to having anything to do with Vegas. Just last month, its chief litigation officer, Anastasia Danias, was speaking at a sports law forum and reiterated that its stance on gambling has not changed: “The NFL’s view is that it’s not legal in most states. And we are all for following the law. I know we are looked at as the ‘No Fun League’ for a lot of reasons, including that, but we are focused on the integrity of our game.”
And yet it will soon have a team playing in Las Vegas.
The NFL’s embrace of Vegas comes at a serendipitous time for those with sports gambling interest. Due to a number of factors (chiefly the rise of daily fantasy sports, changing attitudes toward gambling, and President Donald Trump, a former casino owner), The American Gaming Association believes there is a “perfect storm” right now in favor of legalized sports betting.
Many believe the Las Vegas Raiders will represent a tipping point in forcing the NFL to relax its anti-gambling stance.