A Small but Powerful First Step: Pay for Play Fantasy Game at NFL.com Shows NFL Easing Gambling Opposition

The NFL has finally given up the ghost. After years of fighting attempts to legalize gambling, the NFL is dipping its toes into the gambling world. Legalized gambling, disguised cleverly as “fantasy sports” to take advantage of a legal loophole, has gone nuclear over the past few years and the NFL wants its piece of the action.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 effectively banned betting on sports on the internet, with one exception. Hidden in the bill was an explicit carve-out for fantasy sports businesses that meet three criteria: (a) the value of the prizes is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of fees paid; (b) all winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants; and (c) the fantasy game’s result is not based on the final scores of any real-world games.

The NFL’s fantasy leagues will meet this criteria. They will also avoid paying out money, preferring to give winners of their leagues such items as an autographed jersey or signed football. An autographed jersey will go to the winner of a 10 team league, with each entry paying $45.99. A signed football from the 2013 Pro Bowl game costs each of the 10 participants $124.99. Other prizes include an official’s penalty flag ($4.99 per entry), a game used football ($59.99 per entry), an authentic game coin used in the pre-game toss ($15.99 per entry).

The NFL was one of the major lobbyists and cheerleaders for the UIGEA. They fought tooth and nail any attempts to liberalize sports betting laws, including the most recent attempt by New Jersey to allow sports betting at its casinos. While adding prizes to its games and requiring payment to play still gives the league deniability when it comes to gambling, it shows that the NFL is not against gambling as long as they are the ones getting a piece of the pie.

Roger Goodell signaled this move towards NFL-backed gambling in 2009, when the NFL allowed state lotteries to feature team logos on lottery tickets. “It’s a game of chance and it’s a scratch off. The outcome of our game, that’s a much different issue. We’re not making a statement about nobody should gamble.”

As long as the money goes to the NFL, of course. Goodell once stated that sports betting was the single greatest threat to the integrity of the game. The pay for play fantasy league at NFL.com shows this is no longer the case. Welcome news to the millions of sports bettors around the country.