The NFL’s embrace of sports betting took another major step forward Tuesday with the unveiling of the league’s plans for this year’s NFL Draft, which will be held in Las Vegas. The three-day extravaganza will close down traffic on the Las Vegas Strip and is expected to draw 400,000 fans. Players will arrive to the stage, which will be set on the water at the Fountains of Bellagio, via boat — giving the viewing public the gaudiest NFL Draft production to date. Everything about the event is quintessential Vegas.
The only thing left is for the NFL to sponsor a betting board itself. The move appears inevitable.
In 2017, commissioner Roger Goodell affirmed the league’s opposition to sports betting, even as many of its owners rushed into business partnerships with daily fantasy companies, and voted 31-1 to approve the Raiders’ move from Oakland to the Sin City. “I think we still strongly oppose [among ownership] legalized sports gambling,” Goodell said at the time, via ESPN. “The integrity of our game is No. 1. We will not compromise on that.”
But in recent years, there has been a lot of compromising, beginning with the Raiders’ move to Vegas, where sports betting has long been legalized. Placing a professional football franchise in Las Vegas would’ve seemed incomprehensible just 10 years ago, but the NHL paved the way with the Golden Knights’ relocation in 2017. So far, the experiment has been a rousing success. The Golden Knights have averaged more than 18,000 fans per game over the last three years, which places them towards the top of the league. This season, Vegas ranks second in attendance, behind the Chicago Blackhawks.
With a population exceeding 660,000, and plenty of business opportunities, Vegas seems like the perfect fit for sports franchises. Now that sports gambling is no longer taboo, expect the NBA and MLB to start flouting Vegas as a possible relocation or expansion destination as well.
The NFL has been backing into its embrace of sports betting for the last couple of years. This season, the league made the unprecedented step of selecting DraftKings as its official daily fantasy sports partner. Though daily fantasy sports are not legally considering gambling, it is a technical distinction. There is not much of a difference between betting on players’ in-game performances and the actual game results.
Goodell can hide behind the technicalities, but he knows his league benefits greatly from sports betting. With 14 states legalizing the practice, the momentum is impossible to ignore. It is seemingly only a matter of time before sports gambling is legalized across the country. The NFL, which is still targeting its $25 billion revenue goal for 2027, is lining itself up to embrace the untapped market. The advertising potential is enormous, and far too valuable for the league to shun.
The Raiders are now in Vegas, and the glitziest NFL Draft in history will be held right on the Strip. The only thing missing is Goodell standing on the Bellagio casino floor greeting customers at the sports book himself.
It will come with time.