Gambling has gone from the forbidden topic in the NFL to a key part of the league's present and future.
The days of lobbying against widespread legalized sports betting, preventing broadcast partners from even discussing point spreads and even prohibiting players from holding a fantasy football convention because it was at a casino are firmly in the past.
With a team playing in Las Vegas just a short walk from the casinos on The Strip, sponsorship deals with gambling companies who pay millions for in-game advertisements and teams having sports books next to their stadiums, the relationship between America's richest sports league and gambling is stronger than ever.
“The NFL has evolved quickly with the growing importance of sports betting on the overall ecosystem,” said Robert Fishman, a senior analyst with MoffettNathanson, a division of SVB Securities.
“Sports betting is continuing to grow in importance and will continue to be a driver of growth. We're still in the very early days and there will be a natural evolution of how this continues to grow.”
The growth has been astronomical already since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in 2018, setting the stage for legalized sports betting to spread outside Nevada to most of the rest of the country.
More than 30 states and Washington, D.C., allow sports betting either online or in person with several more set to join them in the next few years.
The NFL is doing its best to capitalize on that just a handful of years after Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to the court considering the overturning of PASPA that said sports betting “threatens to damage irreparably the integrity of, and public confidence in, NFL football.”
While there have been some issues like star receiver Calvin Ridley getting suspended for the season for betting on his own team's games while being a member of the Atlanta Falcons, it has been a relatively smooth evolution.
“We’re happy with the growth and the structures that we’re seeing across most places,” said David Highhill, the NFL's vice president, general manager of sports betting,
“It’s hard to call anything smooth when you’re dealing with a state-by-state structure. But overall we’ve been happy with the partnerships we’ve built.”
Highhill said the league also is focused on “responsible gambling” and gave a grant to the National Council on Problem Gambling to focus on that area.
The NFL has signed deals with DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars Entertainment that reportedly could be worth about $1 billion for the league over five years.
Those companies have fueled an advertising spending spree that saw gambling companies spend $129 million in advertising during NFL games during the 2021 season, according to research from the Kantar Group.
Research from MoffettNathanson shows that legalized sports betting revenue in the United States grew from less than $500 million in 2019 in the first year after PASPA was overturned to more than $3 billion in 2021.
“In a few short years, the very idea of sports betting has been transformed from a taboo and sub rosa vice into a major business opportunity,” the company said in the report. “From sports leagues to rights owners to consumers, it is clear how important sports betting is today and how quickly sentiment has reversed the stigma that once was attached to this industry."
The company projects the legalized sports betting market will generate $12 billion in revenue in 2025, with the NFL the most popular sport for bettors.
A poll conducted by Morning Consult for the American Gaming Association reported that about 47 million people plan to bet on NFL games in 2022, a 40% increase from just two years ago as sports betting has been legalized in more and more states.
More than one-third of NFL fans plan to bet on games this season with many taking advantage of innovations like same-game parlays.
“We’re also seeing there’s more casual betting interest,” Highhill said. “We see overall less people that are totally uninterested in sports betting. So the people that are interested are sort of more interested and the people that had more issues with it we see less and less of that. It shows broadly the population is getting used to sports betting and interested in it.”
Teams are taking advantage of the opportunities with the Arizona Cardinals opening a 17,000-square-foot sportsbook next to their stadium and the Washington Commanders planning to open one adjacent to their stadium.
Several other teams having betting lounges where fans are able to place wagers on their phones.
That could one day lead to fans being able to place live in-game bets from their seats in a stadium.
“That’s certainly possible,” Highhill said. “For those bets to have scale and significance to the operators that are creating them they’re going to need a lot of people interested in placing those bets.”
Every Super Bowl MVP since 1967
As Super Bowl LIII approaches, PointAfter, a sports data site powered by Graphiq, looks back at the history of the award to highlight the winner from each season.
There are 21 Super Bowl MVP winners currently in the Hall of Fame, with future locks (like Tom Brady, Ray Lewis and Aaron Rodgers) to follow. Brady is one of five players to win the award multiple times, along with Bart Starr (twice), Terry Bradshaw (twice), Joe Montana (three times) and Eli Manning (twice).
#1. Super Bowl I: QB Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers
Game score: Packers 35, Chiefs 10
Game stats: 16/23, 250 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
#2. Super Bowl II: QB Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers
Game score: Packers 33, Raiders 14
Game stats: 13/24, 202 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
#3. Super Bowl III: QB Joe Namath, New York Jets
Game score: Jets 16, Colts 7
Game stats: 17/28, 206 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT
#4. Super Bowl IV: QB Len Dawson, Kansas City Chiefs
Game score: Chiefs 23, Vikings 7
Game stats: 12/17, 142 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
#5. Super Bowl V: LB Chuck Howley, Dallas Cowboys
Game score: Colts 16, Cowboys 13
Game stats: 2 interceptions, 22 yards
#6. Super Bowl VI: QB Roger Staubach, Dallas Cowboys
Game score: Cowboys 24, Dolphins 3
Game stats: 12/19, 119 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
#7. Super Bowl VII: S Jake Scott, Miami Dolphins
Game score: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7
Game stats: 2 interceptions, 63 yards
#8. Super Bowl VIII: RB Larry Csonka, Miami Dolphins
Game score: Dolphins 24, Vikings 7
Game stats: 33 attempts, 145 yards, 2 TD
#9. Super Bowl IX: RB Franco Harris, Pittsburgh Steelers
Game score: Steelers 16, Vikings 6
Game stats: 34 attempts, 158 yards, 1 TD
#10. Super Bowl X: WR Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers
Game score: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17
Game stats: 4 catches, 161 yards, 1 TD
#11. Super Bowl XI: WR Fred Biletnikoff, Oakland Raiders
Game score: Raiders 32, Vikings 14
Game stats: 4 catches, 79 yards
#12. Super Bowl XII: DE Harvey Martin & DT Randy White, Dallas Cowboys
Game score: Cowboys 27, Broncos 10
Martin game stats: 2.0 sacks
White game stats: 1.0 sack
#13. Super Bowl XIII: QB Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
Game score: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31
Game stats: 17/30, 318 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
#14. Super Bowl XIV: QB Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers
Game score: Steelers 31, Rams 19
Game stats: 14/21, 309 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT
#15. Super Bowl XV: QB Jim Plunkett, Oakland Raiders
Game score: Raiders 27, Eagles 10
Game stats: 13/21, 261 yards, 3 TD
#16. Super Bowl XVI: QB Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
Game score: 49ers 26, Bengals 21
Game stats: 14/22, 157 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
#17. Super Bowl XVII: RB John Riggins, Washington Redskins
Game score: Redskins 27, Dolphins 17
Game stats: 38 attempts, 166 yards, 1 TD
#18. Super Bowl XVIII: RB Marcus Allen, Los Angeles Raiders
Game score: Raiders 38, Redskins 9
Game stats: 20 attempts, 191 yards, 2 TD
#19. Super Bowl XIX: QB Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
Game score: 49ers 38, Dolphins 16
Game stats: 24/35, 331 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
#20. Super Bowl XX: DE Richard Dent, Chicago Bears
Game score: Bears 46, Patriots 10
Game stats: 1.5 sacks
#21. Super Bowl XXI: QB Phil Simms, New York Giants
Game score: Giants 39, Broncos 20
Game stats: 22/25, 268 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT
#22. Super Bowl XXII: QB Doug Williams, Washington Redskins
Game score: Redskins 42, Broncos 10
Game stats: 18/29, 340 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
#23. Super Bowl XXIII: WR Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers
Game score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Game stats: 11 catches, 215 yards, 1 TD
#24. Super Bowl XXIV: QB Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers
Game score: 49ers 55, Broncos 10
Game stats: 22/29, 297 yards, 5 TD, 0 INT
#25. Super Bowl XXV: RB Ottis Anderson, New York Giants
Game score: Giants 20, Bills 19
Game stats: 21 attempts, 102 yards, 1 TD
#26. Super Bowl XXVI: QB Mark Rypien, Washington Redskins
Game score: Redskins 37, Bills 24
Game stats: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
#27. Super Bowl XXVII: QB Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys
Game score: Cowboys 52, Bills 17
Game stats: 22/30, 273 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
#28. Super Bowl XXVIII: RB Emmitt Smith, Dallas Cowboys
Game score: Cowboys 30, Bills 13
Game stats: 30 attempts, 132 yards, 2 TD
#29. Super Bowl XXIX: QB Steve Young, San Francisco 49ers
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FILE - Football fans wait for kickoff in the sports betting lounge at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., Sept. 9, 2018. Gambling has gone from the forbidden topic in the NFL to a key part of the league's present and future. The days of lobbying against widespread legalized sports betting, preventing broadcast partners from even discussing point spreads and even prohibiting players from holding a fantasy football convention because it was at a casino are firmly in the past. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)
FILE - People line up to make sports bets at the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, N.J., March 19, 2021. Gambling has gone from the forbidden topic in the NFL to a key part of the league's present and future. The days of lobbying against widespread legalized sports betting, preventing broadcast partners from even discussing point spreads and even prohibiting players from holding a fantasy football convention because it was at a casino are firmly in the past. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry, File)