A decade ago, one knowledgeable authority had deep reservations about the idea of the National Football League ever embracing legalized gambling. It would create a corrosive atmosphere in which every penalty or dropped pass—the normal ebbs and flows of games—“inevitably will fuel speculation, distrust, and accusations of point-shaving or game-fixing.” The moralist was none other than NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, declaring the league’s opposition to expanding sports bookmaking outside of Nevada.
The position was born, in part, out of experience. In 1946 the league learned just before the championship game that two players from the New York Giants had been offered bribes to throw the game to the Chicago Bears. (One of them was benched for the game, and both were later suspended; the Bears won, 24-14.) Since then the league had periodically been forced to suspend players whose associations with gamblers raised the existential issue of the game’s integrity. “We should not gamble with our children’s heroes,” Goodell’s predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, told Congress in 1991.