The new NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement takes the league through 2030 and paints a picture of a future with owners and players profiting off bets placed by gamblers at sportsbooks inside stadiums.
After decades of staunch opposition to sports betting, allowing sportsbooks in stadiums is a seismic shift in the league's position and something few stakeholders in the gambling industry saw coming. In the years ahead, NFL owners could be competing with bookmakers for a share of the growing American sports betting market.
According to language in the CBA, owners and players will share revenues generated "by the operation of gambling-related businesses located in or physically attached to an NFL Stadium." Instead of grabbing a hot dog at halftime, spectators may choose to pick up a three-team parlay from a bookmaker renting space at the stadium.
Revenue from "gambling on any aspect of NFL games, any performance of NFL players in NFL games or in any other NFL/Club-related activity" is included in the agreement that even mentions potential profits from slot machines "located in or physically attached to an NFL Stadium."
The CBA indicates that sportsbook operations from the stadiums could run during the offseason as well, although players would receive a smaller percentage of profits from bets on sports other than the NFL.
Some of the gambling revenue split by owners and players could be based on the outcome of wagers, defined in the CBA as "the aggregate net difference between gaming wins and losses [not the total amount wagered] net of all excise taxes or other gambling or gaming-related taxes or surcharges actually paid or owed."
"This is forward-looking language that addresses revenue sharing from activities in the event they take place in the future," NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy told ESPN. "There's no certainty or timeline as to when these activities would be implemented."
Legal sportsbooks have begun operating in 17 states, with another wave of jurisdictions preparing to follow. Illinois and Washington, D.C., sports betting laws allow professional sports venues to apply for licensing. At Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., construction is underway on a sportsbook that will be run by bookmaker William Hill U.S. There have been discussions of putting a sportsbook in or near Wrigley Field in Chicago, and pending sports betting legislation in Virginia permits gambling licenses for sports venues, something that was included at the urging of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.
"We have seen Maryland looking at bringing the Redskins into the fold and being a licensee," said Sara Slane, a betting industry consultant for sports and media companies. "Virginia has done that as an enticement to get the Redskins to come into their state. Sports betting has morphed into so many other opportunities that I don't think anyone had quite predicted."
Virginia is one of the states looking for an online-only sports betting market, so physical betting windows at stadiums might be unnecessary. Any spaces dedicated to betting may feel more like sports bars that showcase point spreads and odds at the stadium's bookmaker.
JCJ Architecture, a firm with extensive clients in the hospitality market, including casinos, has seen an uptick in requests for sportsbook designs, including in sports venues. JCJ principal managing director Paul Hamel said the company has collaborated on more than a dozen sportsbook projects across the nation, with more in the pipeline.
"Since retail/wagering windows are still not allowed, stadium sportsbooks will essentially function as lounges where individuals can bet on their smartphones," Jeanne Muscolino, senior associate for JCJ's hospitality sector, told ESPN.
In February, the NFL said it would begin allowing teams to have betting lounges in their stadiums and accept sponsorships from sportsbooks, but under current policy, stadiums remain prohibited from having physical betting windows.
Seven states are home to NFL teams and have legal sports betting markets: Indiana, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Nevada. Colorado, North Carolina and Tennessee have passed legislation and are planning to launch sportsbooks this year. Since 2007, the NFL has played games in the United Kingdom, where sports betting is legal. The league, however, has closed down any betting kiosks inside the stadiums during games.
Yaniv Sherman, senior vice president and head of commercial development for online gambling operator 888 Holdings, has worked closely with the New York Jets in recent years as a sponsor. Sherman said he believes there will be a measured approach as the NFL begins to infuse sports betting into the game-day experience.
"What you don't want is to overstep it or be too aggressive and trigger some sort of backlash," Sherman told ESPN. "I think if the NFL were to become the bookie or sportsbook, I don't think that's the right direction. Everyone needs to stay in their lanes, because that keeps everybody doing what they're best at."
The NFL, for decades, kept traditional sports betting at arm's length, concerned about any negative impact on the integrity of the games. The league refused advertising for Las Vegas and prohibited players from participating in events in casinos. It fought New Jersey for six years to stop the state from launching a regulated sports betting market. In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the NFL, other major professional sports leagues and the NCAA, opening a path for states to decide whether to regulate sports betting.
Now, with the gambling landscape in the U.S. evolving rapidly, the league envisions being much closer to the betting action.
Maybe they have been planning it all along. On Nov. 5, 2012, inside the NFL's Park Avenue office in New York City, an attorney for the league laid out its position on sports betting at the time.
"The NFL is a revenue-generating business," Lawrence Feranzani, general counsel for the league, said during deposition testimony in the early stages of the New Jersey sports betting case. "If the NFL believed that sports gambling would allow it to increase its revenue, the NFL would engage in that revenue."
Years later, Feranzani appears to have nailed it.