League stance softened with London gambling


In a short period of time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense disciplinarian. Apparently, though, he can accept his league being associated with legal gambling.

The only catch is the action must happen in London and not Las Vegas.

For the first time, the NFL is staging a regular-season game overseas as the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants meet Sunday at Wembley Stadium. Every sports book in London but one will be open for wagering on the game.

Betfred, a major British bookmaker, is closing its betting windows at Wembley Stadium at the NFL's insistence.

"We requested and were granted a restriction on gambling at the stadium," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "There will be no on-site betting facility. Those will not be operating on the day of the game."

But sports books surround the stadium, and all of them will be taking action on the game. The Giants are favored by 91/2 points, and many books have posted proposition wagers.

When the NBA brought its All-Star game to Las Vegas in February, Nevada agreed to take the game off the betting board.

Aiello said the NFL did not seek a similar arrangement in England.

"We did not think that was necessary or appropriate," Aiello said. "Those are legal operations."

That would be a reasonable explanation, if not for the NFL's hard-line stance against Las Vegas because of its legal sports books. Goodell even talked of a potential Super Bowl in London.

"I just don't understand the hypocrisy. It's beyond me," Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said.

Jeff Sherman, an oddsmaker at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, has visited London about five times and said books are more prevalent there and restrictions are not as tight as in Nevada.

"Over there, you can open up a betting shop like a corner bar," Sherman said. "The NFL is going right into a hotbed of sports books and hoping nobody mentions anything about it."

If the NFL can take a game to London, Sherman said, "There is no reason they should take such a negative approach to what we do here."

In 2003, the league rejected Super Bowl commercials that featured scenes from Las Vegas. Goodman threatened litigation, and his response attracted national media attention.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was told the commercial was not in the league's best interest, though Goodman said the ad had no gambling theme.

"We were going to pay a small fortune for it, and they just turned us down flat," Goodman said. "I blasted them, and instead of paying about $2.5 million for that ad, we got $20 million in free publicity.

"I can't get (the NFL) to show us any kindness. It doesn't make any sense, and I say that sadly, because I think an NFL franchise in Las Vegas would be the greatest thing since sliced bread."