Starting this season, some NFL (National Football League) stadiums will be allowed to have betting lounges, and teams may accept sponsorships from sportsbook operators, as the league continues to approach to the expanding legal sports betting market in the U.S.
Retail sportsbooks are still prohibited at NFL stadiums, and there will not be any physical betting windows. However, stadiums in jurisdictions with legal sports gambling may offer betting lounges, showcasing mobile betting options, with signage and monitors showing odds and bets, according to Chris Halpin, Chief Strategy and Growth VP for the NFL.
"We're allowing betting lounges," Halpin told ESPN on Friday. "Similar to daily fantasy lounges today, in an adult, discreet area, there will be a betting setup, but we're not going to have betting windows."
Under the new league policy, teams can designate official sportsbook sponsors and display signage in stadiums with some restrictions. The word "sponsor" must be included in reference to sportsbooks, and sports betting signage remains prohibited in the lower bowls of stadiums. The sponsors can also use such lounges to sign up customers. These will basically be designated physical spaces for mobile betting on smartphones.
Previously, casino sponsorships were allowed, but references to sportsbooks were not. In January 2019, the NFL named Caesars Entertainment as the league's first official casino sponsor, a deal that did not include sports betting. Teams have accepted casino sponsorships for years, but without sports betting.
The league informed the teams last week, and Sports Business Daily first reported the change in NFL policy.
Legal sportsbooks are operating in 14 states, including four that are home to NFL teams: Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Several more jurisdictions, including NFL hubs Colorado, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Tennessee, are expected to launch sports betting this year.
"We feel good about how it's evolved state by state," Halpin said of the growing American sports betting market. "We're more and more excited about how sports betting is developing, and we're now doing more in the space. We're very positive about how it's developing."
The lack of physical betting windows was “a key point of focus from our committee of owners, and also in our fan research broadly,” Halpin told Yahoo Finance. “We didn’t want betting windows or kiosks or signups in the broader concourse where all fans are exposed to it, including underage fans but also fans who are not interested in betting and don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. Relative to our brand, having it within lounges or on mobile is the right way to do it, and it’s also really where the market’s going. That’s the approach we feel comfortable with.”
The NFL’s official casino partner is Caesars, and its official daily fantasy sports partner is DraftKings, but teams are still free to make their own team-specific local casino deals, and many have. But as legalization grows, the league is allowing team sportsbook sponsorships since, as Halpin points out, “More than half our teams will have state legalization in their home markets next year.”
Gillette Stadium (home to the New England Patriots), AT&T Stadium (Dallas Cowboys), and Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City Chiefs) all have designated DraftKings fantasy sports lounges already, and the new betting lounges would look basically the same; what’s new is the ability for teams to have official sportsbook sponsors.
In Atlantic City, a number of brick-and-mortar casinos have been building out similar lounges inside their casinos, under the reasoning that if people are going to bet on their phones, the casinos would still like the bettors to do it in their casinos.
The National Football League famously fought against gambling for years, citing concerns about the “integrity of the game.” In 2015, it shut down a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas headlined by quarterback Tony Romo for its mere whiff of gambling; in 2016, as the other major leagues inked official league partnerships with daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings or FanDuel, the NFL allowed its teams to make team-level deals but did not enter any league-wide deal until 2019.
“I think our approach has evolved,” said Halpin. “In a PASPA world, there really wasn’t much to talk about. And our biggest concern historically was: If sports betting was allowed, how responsible would the frameworks be that states enacted to make sure there were strong integrity requirements, consumer protections, all these things that were really important to us. That was an unknown. What we’ve seen now is that states are by and large enacting thoughtful, effective frameworks. I think we feel good about it now, we’ve spent more time with sportsbooks and we feel good about how the market is developing.”
Las Vegas is the center of that shift in strategy, a fact that will be on stark display in April when the league hosts its draft there, a huge event that gets bigger and brassier every year. Drafted players will get on a boat and ride across the fountain of the Bellagio Hotel and Casino to shake the commissioner’s hand.
Then, when the season begins, an NFL team will call Las Vegas home, joining the NHL’s Golden Knights. MLB and MLS are rumored to be eyeing the city next.