NFL and Vegas: A Forbidden Love Affair

NFL and Vegas: A Forbidden Love Affair

It’s like a longtime, dysfunctional relationship between two of your best friends. The NFL and Las Vegas. Their issues are many and deep, but they can’t seem to keep their hands off each other.

Over the last few years, this relationship has gotten very one-sided. Vegas is like the lover who sneaks by on Sundays for a few hours of passion, then is kicked out the back door by the NFL with Monday morning’s trash.

In spite of $95 million bet legally on the Super Bowl and hundreds of billions bet illegally, the NFL takes the hypocritical stance that sports betting does not exist. Of course, without sports betting, do they think the TV ratings would be what they are? Of course not.

It hasn’t always been like this. 

At one time this relationship was open for all to see. It was like the Homecoming King and Queen midfield at halftime. Remember Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder? He was a Vegas bookie who during NFL pre-game shows would predict the scores of games, thus, let bettors know his picks. That stopped long ago. The NFL will not allow any network carrying their games to discuss point spreads before, after, or during games. Al Michaels on Monday Night Football would sneak in a little reference after a late, meaningless field goal.

“There are a lot of people in Vegas who were interested in that 45 yarder.” 

But that was Al, that was then, and I can’t recall hearing him do that lately.

Super Bowl parties were everywhere in Vegas in the 80’s and 90’s. I hosted many of them at Bally’s, Caesar’s and the Tropicana (Bum Phillips was my favorite when he was with the Oilers, the crowds loved him.) Current and former players and coaches would show up, party with the fans, enjoy the game. Since sports betting is legal in Nevada, lots of cash would be changing hands beginning with the coin toss and not ending until the final play. The NFL put an end to that long ago, demanding that their current players not attend events like these in Las Vegas.

Oh, and now there’s this, you can no longer call it the “Super Bowl Party,” it has to be the “Big Game Party,” or some silly thing like that.

A decade ago the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority wanted to run an ad during the broadcast of the Super Bowl. The ad did not refer to sports betting. In fact, it didn’t even promote gambling. It was just a commercial promoting Las Vegas. The NFL refused to run it. That was like filing divorce papers.

Other sports leagues have a much more reasonable approach to sports betting. NASCAR races in Las Vegas annually and fans can place their bets and head to the race. Often drivers will bet on themselves and brag about it. NBA, MLB, and NHL games have been played in Vegas with full odds on the board. Who would go to an MMA fight in Vegas without first laying down a few bucks? All of this is being done openly, in the light of day, without scandal, and fully regulated.

The NFL says it has to keep its distance to avoid any hint of a betting scandal, but at the same time, they know their popularity is due, in large part, to bettors laying down cash on their games. Who would watch a mid season Chiefs/Jags game without money on it? 

Still, the dysfunction continues, and seemingly will continue as far as anybody can see. These two lovers need each other, they feed off each other. Vegas wants to take the NFL to the Big Dance during the light of day for all to see them walk arm-in-arm across the ballroom floor. The NFL is happy sneaking Vegas over once a week for a hot time in the back room, then, “quick, out the back door before the neighbors see!” 

Follow Ron Futrell on Twitter @RonFutrell