NFL owners’ noses growing while their pants burn

Is Las Vegas a problem? Ha! Gambling supports the NFL

The NFL was launched by gamblers and has been tied to and supported by gambling ever since.
  • The NFL was launched by gamblers and has been tied to and supported by gambling ever since.

Since its founding in 1920, the National Football League has proclaimed it opposes gambling, but the league was actually launched by gamblers and has been tied to and supported by gambling ever since. The league has closely monitored gambling-related activities of players, but team owners, often high rollers with mob ties, have gotten a free pass or a wrist tap.

84 percent of adults say they’re “more likely to watch a game they weren’t previously interested in when they bet on it”

84 percent of adults say they’re “more likely to watch a game they weren’t previously interested in when they bet on it”

Five years ago, the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, was being deposed in a lawsuit. An attorney asked, “What threats are there to the integrity of pro football in the United States?”

77 percent say placing a bet on a game makes watching it more enjoyable

77 percent say placing a bet on a game makes watching it more enjoyable

Replied Goodell: “Gambling would be number one on my list.” His nose extended out three feet. Early this year, he said, “We are not changing our position as it relates to legalized sports gambling.”

But league owners have approved a move by the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, the nation’s gambling mecca. Owners are claiming that Vegas is not the city it was years ago. Those owners’ noses are growing while their pants burn. It’s true that Vegas got hit in the Great Recession and has competition from gambling in many states and offshore, but leisure and hospitality jobs in Southern Nevada (overwhelmingly the Vegas area) have bounced back sturdily from the 2007–2009 crash and represent 32 percent of employment, compared with 11.2 percent nationally and 12.8 percent in San Diego. Casino hotels account for 12 of the 20 largest employers in the area. Vegas gambling is booming.

National Football League owners pretend that gambling means little to the league. Hogwash. Last year, Nielsen Sports and the American Gaming Association did a survey on whether betting on a game boosts a fan’s interest in the sport. In 2015, adults who bet on games watched 19 more games a year than non-bettors. Bettors watched 90.9 minutes of a game and non-bettors watched 79.2 minutes. Nielsen said that 84 percent of adults “say they’re more likely to watch a game they weren’t previously interested in when they bet on it,” according to the report, and 77 percent say placing a bet on a game makes watching it more enjoyable.

Of course, the American Gaming Association’s participation in this survey could skew results, but Nielsen is a reputable researcher. And the conclusions are intuitive. Certainly a bettor is more interested in a game than a non-bettor. The point is that the National Football League has known for decades that gambling heightens interest in the games and boosts the TV audience. (Each team makes a fat $226.4 million a year from games being televised.)

The league is lovey-dovey with fantasy-football operations such as DraftKings and FanDuel, which are gambling vehicles. NFL Sunday Ticket and NFL RedZone are beloved of gamblers. The NFL plays more and more games in London, where betting on games is legal. Newspapers print the point spread on games. Similarly, the league puts out information on which players are ailing before a game — critical information for gamblers and bookies.

Books and TV specials have exposed the NFL’s coziness with gambling. In 1971, former Cleveland Browns player Bernie Parrish wrote a book, They Call It a Game. One chapter laid out in detail the gambling and organized-crime relationships of owners. I asked him if he had been threatened with lawsuits. “Hell, no!” he said.

In 1983, the Public Broadcasting Service showed a documentary, An Unauthorized History of the NFL. It touched on gambling and game-throwing. Sports writers savaged it. Surprised?

In 1989, Dan E. Moldea published Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football. It was thoroughly researched and footnoted but still got panned.

When I arrived at the San Diego Union in 1973, I suggested a series on gambling and mob relationships of football owners. The idea was applauded by the managing editor but got killed at a higher level — no doubt because of the mob relationships and gambling proclivities of early Chargers owner Barron Hilton and then-owner Eugene Klein.

Here is an incomplete history of NFL owners and their backgrounds: Among the earlier team owners were George Halas of the Chicago Bears, who got loans from associates of Al (Scarface) Capone. A close Capone associate was gambler/bootlegger Charles W. Bidwill, owner of the Chicago Cardinals, which later moved to St. Louis, then Arizona. For years, the Bidwill company owned racetracks and horse stables. In recent years, Bidwill’s sons divided the gambling and football interests to please the league. The same was true in Pittsburgh. An early owner of the city’s pro team was Arthur Rooney, whose saloon was a center of gambling. The company went on to control racetracks, video slot and lottery machines, as well as a card room. Again, under 2008 pressure from the NFL, the elder Rooney’s children divided the empire between gambling and football.

Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans, for years had a horse stable that he sold in 2008. The founder of the Cleveland Browns was Arthur (Mickey) McBride, who had organized-crime ties through his horse-racing wire service supplying information to bookies. In the 1950s, the Senate’s Kefauver Committee called the horse wire “Public Enemy Number One.” In 1961, the team was sold to Art Modell, who later became a partner in a racetrack stable with Morris (Mushy) Wexler, whom the Kefauver Committee called one of the “leading hoodlums” in McBride’s wire. In 1969, Modell got married in the Las Vegas home of Caesars Palace head William (Billy) Weinberger, whom the Las Vegas Sun called the “dean of casino gambling.”

Ralph Wilson, founder of the Buffalo Bills, was involved in thoroughbred horse breeding while owning the Bills. Al Davis, former Chargers coach who went on to head the Raiders, was in a retail deal with San Diegan Allen Glick, a casino owner whom the Justice Department said was tied to organized crime. Eddie DeBartolo Jr. got the San Francisco 49ers from his billionaire father, a developer with mob ties. The younger DeBartolo got caught giving a $400,000 bribe to get a Louisiana gambling license. The league’s punishment: a one-year suspension. He went back to the family company anyway, which had long been involved in casinos and racetracks.

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Mike Murphy: There used to be a lot of game-fixing and point-shaving in pro football, but today the players' salaries are so high that I doubt there is much of it. However, I think referees, who are not so well paid, could still influence scores for under-the-table money. One NBA ref got caught a few years ago.

I suspect that taking bribes from gamblers is more common in college football and basketball. (USD had a big fixing scandal just a few years ago.) The players, while they enjoy under-the-table emoluments, know they won't make the pros so may be susceptible to bribe offers. Best, Don Bauder

Don: A story about gambling in the NFL. Back in the days I wagered on NFL games, I was with a group of friends in a Las Vegas sports book. I had wagered on 2 different games--both on the point spread and total. I won the early game easily, but I needed the Chargers vs Broncos game to go over the total (44.5 points) to win my 4 way parlay (the point spread and over the total for each game). As I said before, the first game covered easily in both covering the spread and going over the total. The Chargers/Broncos had the Broncos winning by quite a bit, and they had that covered well before the end of the game, as they led 37-0 late in the 4th quarter. The Chargers scored a TD with under 5 minutes to go, making the score 37-6. They kick the extra point, and the score would have been 37-7, and I lose my 4 team parlay by half a point. For a reason I didn't understand, the Chargers went for 2. It made no sense, but they made it, and I won my bet ($50 to win $500). I should have paid more attention to that move by the Chargers. That was back in 2003, and not long after that, I stopped betting on football. Pretty much all sports for that matter.

I don't watch that much pro football anymore either.

aardvark: This is what to consider when betting on sports: other people know more than you do. In football, the owners know more about their team than you do. In sports betting, you are betting against the house. That's a good way to lose. Best,Don Bauder

for sure, the refs are good at what they do to influence the outcome of the show

Murphyjunk: Pro sports is entertainment -- very remunerative entertainment for owners (billionaires) and players (millionaires). The refs are not so well paid -- by the league. Does someone else pay them under the table? Consider. Best, Don Bauder

refs are employees also, consensus on some forms is they do as they are told.

don bauder, in 2014-15, which are the most recent figures I can recall, the AVERAGE NFL officials salary was about $175k and many of the veterans made in excess of $200k. As I remember it, their current CBA calls for increases in over the next couple of years that will bring the average up to about $200k, with the veterans receiving a like increase. That is actual salary and does not include bonus pay for post season games, retirement benefits or health insurance benefits. Not a bad paycheck for working 1 day a week, for 20 weeks. Just my opinion. Opinions vary.

danfogel: But is that enough to turn down a huge bribe offer from a gambler? I don't know. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder, As I recall, you made about $100k your lat year at the UT. Was that enough to turn down a bribe offer to slant a story in a certain direction to benefit someone?

danfogel: I have never taken a bribe to slant a story, and never will. Don Bauder

danfogel, add: I can't remember anybody offering me a bribe to slant a story negative or positive. However, I had 5 or 6 death threats while I was at the U-T. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder My point was not that you took bribes, nor would I ever suggest that you did. Rather, it was that most referees make double what you did, for only 20 weeks of work, one day a week and for only a handful of hours. That is in addition to what they earn from their regular jobs. So is it proper for someone of your integrity to suggest that they may take bribes merely because, in your words, they are are not so well paid. Does that "fact" alone make them dishonest, indeed any less honest than you?

danfogel: The fact that they do not make the big money of players, or have the billions in assets of owners, doesn't make them dishonest, but it might make them vulnerable. Remember, a referee in the NBA got caught a few years ago. Best, Don Bauder

don bauder A few points to make and then I'll disappear again. The fact that major sports officials don't make what the athletes do or have the assets of billionaire owners does not make them inherently vulnerable to bribery, If that were the case, then logic would seem to say that anyone in that situation in any profession would be and it just isn't so. And there are far more people that take bribes in other professions than do sports officials. You choose to believe otherwise and that is your prerogative. As far as I can remember, Tim Donaghy is the only major sports league official found to be fixing games, or even accused of fixing games in decades. No doubt the fact that he had a gambling problem and was said to owe a lot on money contributed to his betting on games and trying to influence the outcome of games he worked. Try this perspective. The average NFL official makes more than most of the general public in San Diego, not even including their regular jobs. Does that make those San Diegans "vulnerable"? I'm sure most of the people who comment here would be thrilled to make as much per year in their 50+ hour a week jobs what an average NFL official makes in their part time job.

Just my opinion.

Opinions vary.

Murphyjunk: I suspect you mean that they do as they are told to do by gamblers. Some of that, I suspect, goes on. Best, Don Bauder

NFL had a "shell game" going with the 49ers for decades. Eddie De Bartolo Sr. used his casino gambling and developer funds to purchase the team. NFL would not let him run the team. Sr put the team in the name of his son Eddie Jr..But, much of the money for the purchase came from Sr's gambling casinos. Apparently, Jr. did not stay fall far from the family tree and quietly stayed involved in the family gambling businesses. Then Eddie Debartolo Jr, gets caught red handed being a bagman for cash bribes to the Governor of Louisiana to obtain riverboat gambling casino licenses. NFL usually turns a blind eye to such activities, but the publicity and trials were front page stories. NFL forced Eddie De Bartolo Jr out as controlling owner of the 49ers after 5 Super Bowl Wins. Eddie Jr. turns over the running and management of the 49ers to his sister Denise Debartolo York and her husband. York not being proficient at running an NFL team and with no experience turns the team over to her frat boy son Jed York as a "Management Trainee" exercise right out of college.. (a rich kid's toy) .to keep her son working and out of trouble. "Tommy Boy"(movie with David Spade, Chris Farley, Brian Dennehy) 49ers go into the tank under Jed York... After years of running the team into the ground, Finally, the York kid stumbles onto Jim Harbaugh who does not suffer fools gladly. Harbaugh, after taking the 49ers to 2 NFC Championship games and 1 Superbowl has finally had enough of Jed York and gets out of there before he kills the kid lol! Imagine an inexperienced frat boy telling Jim Harbaugh how to coach a football team...(would loved to have been a fly on the wall in those meetings...furniture and windows salespeople were happy and prosperous I imagine)... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7sEIz4lazI

SportsFan0000: But even after being caught bribing a Louisiana politician so he could get a gambling license, the NFL only slapped a one-year suspension on Eddie Jr. In my judgment, someone passing a bribe of that magnitude (I believe it was $400,000), should have been tried criminally.

But the NFL said he could have returned to the 49ers after only one year of suspension! He chose to go back to the family business in Youngstown and let his sister and her husband run the team -- into the ground, although the team's foundering may have been for many reasons.

Meanwhile, Eddie Jr. was recently voted into the league's hall of fame. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan000: Or the Hall of Ill Fame. Best, Don

Eddie De Bartolo Jr. and John Moores ,both owners/former owners of major sports franchises raking in big bucks yearly, receive "get out of jail free cards" because they spread their largess of cash around like horse manure in a racing stables operation...Their lawyers run up multi-million dollar tabs and shop their golf buddy judges @ the RSF and Pebble Beach Country Clubs playing "let's make a deal"" give our clients (Moores, DeBartolo Jr) a "free pass" and we will make it worth your while when you or your family or your son or daughter need a big favor etc..

SportsFan0000: I knew a lawyer who had a lawsuit against Moores et al over the ballpark scam. Then Jimmy Carter came to town to sit in Moores' box. She moaned, "I've lost." She did lose thanks to crooked judges who got Moores off hook. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I have long suspected that the league and owners put pressure on the Refs to favor certain teams and players in the NFL. They play to the more lucrative TV matchups for the multibillion TV dollar revenues especially in lining up teams and matchups for the playoffs and the Superbowl. I have seen this way too many times. I have stopped watching the NFL on a regular basis because of various issues: the officiating and game results appear to be fixed at times, the concussion issues and players getting chronic traumatic encephalopathy(concussion syndrome), and just better things to do with my time.

The rare times I watch an NFL game at a party or a sports bar with friends, I can quickly pickup the purposely blown calls and non calls by the NFL referees. It appears to be fixed in some of the games I have seen. You don't spend billions on a sport, have tons of refs on the field and in the press boxes, have state of the art cameras and filming equipment everywhere and still have so many non called/missed penalties and blatant foul calling against certain teams. And curiously, calls often go in favor of the larger market marque teams and against the smaller market teams without the huge local population and TV revenues. There are billions riding on the right matchups, TV games, playoff games, Superbowl games etc. It is a huge incentive to cheat.

Don, I was wondering about your thoughts on these issues?!

SportsFan0000: I have suspected such things, but I am not sure enough to conclude that today, fixing games and shaving points is ubiquitous. As I said, players get paid too much these days to take bribes and threaten their careers, although older players near the end of their careers may be more vulnerable. Look to college football and basketball for more of that -- in short, follow the money. Best, Don Bauder

the players and ref. are employees , the do as they are told, no bribes needed, its all legal according to the courts. ( being thats it contrived entertainment)

Murphyjunk: I don't understand your statement that taking bribes is legal. The ref caught trying to determine outcomes of NBA games went to prison, as I recall. I believe there were criminal charges in the USD scandal of a few years ago. Best, Don Bauder

I hear you Don....But, it is not the players I am talking about. It is the Refs, the league that I think is cheating and pushing for results that maximize TV revenues...NFL may be a glorified version of WWF wrestling where the results are scripted...The players are "small fry" that, oftentimes, may not be in the loop on those machinations. It may be above their pay grades...

A few retired refs and coaches have said in exposes and some "off the record" that some very shady things go on with the league..

SportsFan0000: WWF Wrestling went public. In its prospectus, it had to admit it was "scripted entertainment." Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: i forgot to note this: you say the teams in the big markets get the bulk of the breaks from the refs. However, the Los Angeles Rams last year did poorly. The Chicago Bears smelled to high heaven. The two teams from the New York metro area were hardly standouts. Best, Don Bauder

"NFL Referees are part-time employees of the NFL. NFL refs make less than $75,000 per season. They work for the league, period. Referees are bound by NFL mandated gag orders which prevent them from talking to the media. "

info I found interesting

A few fundamentals need to be established: First, the NFL possesses an Anti-Trust Exemption to the law granted to it by President John F. Kennedy, which ultimately allows the NFL to classify itself as "entertainment" rather than sport, as well as incorporate itself as a single entity instead of the 32 separate "franchises" they would want you to believe.

"in a 2004 lawsuit vs the NFL, the NFL argued they are not a collection of 32 teams, but a single entity. They compete as a unit in the entertainment marketplace, and not subject to Anti-Trust laws." Like the WWE. "

"Judges ruled that fixing a game for entertainment purposes was completely LEGAL. "

Murphyjunk: The $75,000 per season is a long way from what danfogel reported. I do not believe that judges ruled that fixing a game was legal because the games are entertainment. You will have to show me something before I believe that. Best, Don Bauder

got the info from googling "is the nfl fixed" lots of compelling info to be found.

murphyjunk From 2012: http://www.footballzebras.com/2012/09/27/nfl-and-referee-union-reach-deal/


These are the figures from the most recent CBA signed in 2012 and lasting thru the 2019 season, I believe. If you would prefer to google, you will find a myriad of sites that do indeed show a salary for NFL refs in the $75k range, but only for rookie refs.

As I said, the most recent season I recall seeing the figures for was the 2014-2015 season. I seem to remember that there were about 120 total officials and only 12 of them were rookies. The NFL releases it's officiating crew rosters right about this time every year, so the new one should be out soon, I believe that there were only 3 rookie officials added to the roster last year, meaning only a very small percentage make the minimum, which is now higher than $75k. I'm sure that if you want to, you can find the NFLRA CBA online. I remember reading it years ago when it was first signed and the regular officials came back and the replacements went away. I'm sure it is still out there someplace.

danfogel: This is good information, as always, but refs may be bitten by the greed bug, too. Best, Don Bauder

Murphyjunk: I'll check that site. Best, Don Bauder

Saw ton of info even FBI documenting fixed NFL games etc...on some on line sites, blogs and news stories...

Google NFL fixed games, the fix is in... Rigged NFL games etc...

Some people spent hundreds of hours documenting it with fixed plays, games, calls in great detail. Some sites even have video clips etc...

SportsFan0000: I can't comment because I haven't seen these sites, blog, and news stories. But you can be sure I will check them out. Best, Don Bauder

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