NFL Halts New Jersey Gambling Expansion

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The National Football League has successfully had a temporary injunction placed on New Jersey’s ability to offer sportsbook gambling at Monmouth Park Racetrack. Judge Michael Shipp approved the injunction after hearing from NFL lawyers who will now have to decide firmly upon which grounds they want the ban to be upheld- but this may prove tricky.

For many years now the NFL has largely opposed the expansion of sports gambling. Among the fundamental reasons is the fact that they want to avoid any kind of match-fixing as much as possible; fans need only look to the 2007 NBA scandal to see the irreparable damage it can do to a sport. There is therefore a logical root to their argument, but with stars like Jay Cutler taking in around $18.5 million per year it is hard to imagine that cheating would be as tempting as it may have been back when wages were much more reasonable. With sports betting becoming as widespread and integral as it is to nearly every leading sport worldwide – not to mention the fact that many people already bet on NFL through various avenues – many fans feel that the NFL should get with the times.

One of the largest stumbling blocks that the NFL is set to face involves fantasy football betting. Whilst outright match betting goes against the NFL’s agenda they openly endorse fantasy football games. Fans pick out their own dream team using a set budget and accumulate points all season for passes, interceptions, touchdowns, safeties and so on. The best performing teams will earn the players prizes and fantasy football has proven a hugely popular pastime for fans across the US. More recently, differentiating between fantasy football and traditional sports betting has become somewhat of an issue in itself.

Adding daily fantasy betting to the already-existing format has resulted in a product markedly similar to sports betting. Whereas the overall aim of fantasy football is to have the best performing squad over a season-long period, daily markets allow customers to have a punt on much more short-term affairs. Having approved fantasy football, the NFL will now find it troublesome to distinguish what precisely they do and don’t approve of in legal terms. The New England Patriots have even struck up a recent partnership with DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports operator, indicating how integrated the habit has become within the game and adding further problems to the NFL’s chances of successfully quashing New Jersey’s attempts to legalise betting.

“DraftKings is incredibly proud to associate ourselves with the New England Patriots, one of the league’s most successful franchises, right here in our backyard,” said the co-founder of DraftKings, Paul Liberman.  ”The Patriots are one of the league’s model franchises and we are pleased to align ourselves with them.  We look forward to bringing the excitement of daily fantasy sports into the game-day experience.”

DraftKings and the New England patriots are clearly heavily invested in one another. The deal ensures that the Gillette stadium will be adorned with LED-based DraftKings signs promoting regular fantasy-based updates. The team’s regular e-newsletter, which goes out to its entire fanbase, will now feature weekly fantasy football tips. The Patriots’ website and social media channels will also be flooded with DraftKings’ content. Any strict move by the NFL against short-term fantasy betting would therefore prove most problematic for this particular arrangement.

According to recent documents issued on the case, the NFL’s lawyers have stated that the recent decision to relax the stringent laws are “in clear and flagrant violation of federal law – to accomplish what it unsuccessfully attempted to do three years ago: sponsor, operate, advertise, promote, license or authorize gambling on amateur and professional sports at state-licensed casinos and horse racetracks. Because this effort is no more lawful than New Jersey’s past ones, it, too, should be enjoined.” This seemingly leaves little room for negotiation, which begs the question: how exactly are they going to definitively define what constitutes illegal gambling and what is permissible via the fantasy loophole?

This is not the first time such a protest has been lobbied against what many believe to be a stranglehold on the NFL’s betting regime. In 2011 a document was successful signed by voters to legalise sports gambling and the bill was approved by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. However, the leagues sued and had the approval reversed, and when New Jersey tried to take the case to the US Supreme Court they refused to hear the case, leaving little options going forward.

These actions do not sit well with fans who feel they are within their rights to gamble on the games they pay to watch and the teams they pay to support. On the subject of legalising gambling across the board, NFL official Joe Browne said “If sports betting becomes more prevalent through state-promoted schemes, it will inevitably lead those gambling fans to question whether an erroneous officiating call or a dropped pass late in the game resulted from an honest mistake or an intentional act by a corrupt player or referee.”

Yet this straightforward ideal is starkly contrasted with the fact that sports betting on the NFL is completely legal in Las Vegas. The year’s showcase event, the Super Bowl, has seen a steady year-on-year increase in the amount wagered at Las Vegas bookmakers. Browne went on to say that “a very small percentage” of viewers gamble on the games, but the figures do not exactly backup his statement. At the most recent Super Bowl in 2014, just shy of $120 million was wagered in Las Vegas as the Seattle Seahawks crushed the Denver Broncos 43-8. This is hardly an insignificant sum, so how does Browne’s claim to stop gambling in order to avoid match fixing stack up against a 9-figure betting sum on just one match?

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the case will unfold, with many believing that the NFL will emerge victorious as they often do. If that proves to be the case, punters will be left to turn their habits online – or head over to Vegas.

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