Is NFL gambling policy protecting integrity or perception?

Given the stakes, the NFL is wise to have a policy on gambling

Whether the NFL’s stated policy aligns with its stated goals, however, is up for debate.

Employees betting on the NFL, when league and team staffers could and often do have inside information, risk compromising the integrity of NFL games and bets placed.

The Washington Commanders and Detroit Lions players suspended for betting on the NFL, and the Indianapolis Colts player under investigation for it, are a conversation for another time.

But how about the NFL’s restrictions surrounding betting on other sports?

Lions receivers Jameson Williams and Stanley Berryhill are suspended for the first six games of the 2023 season for placing bets on non-NFL games from an NFL facility. Non-player employees of the league, meanwhile, are prohibited from betting on any sport at any time. Non-player personnel cannot gamble on Little League, the Kentucky Derby or even a March Madness bracket that involves money to enter or a prize of value is offered.

It’s a policy that goes beyond the scope of protecting league integrity — and even the NFL knows it.

NFL executives held a conference call Tuesday with reporters to detail how they’re educating players about league policies. NFL vice president and chief compliance officer Sabrina Perel oversees a team that has traveled to 14 teams this spring, with six more scheduled, to lend advice and answer questions on the league’s gambling policy.

The education initiatives are worth noting. But so is the league’s inconsistent messaging.

‘Make sure that there’s no negative association’

Perel and her staff spend roughly half an hour with teams on a visit, she said, as they distill the paragraph-laden gambling policy into six key rules.

  • Don’t bet on the NFL

  • Don’t gamble at your team facility, while traveling for a road game or staying at a team hotel

  • Don’t have someone bet for you

  • Don’t share team ‘inside information’

  • Don’t enter a sportsbook during the NFL playing season

  • Don’t play daily fantasy football

Compliance officials explain those restrictions in more depth — No bets from the team parking lot! No bets on NFL events like NFL Honors! — and reiterate that coaches and team staff cannot bet on any sport at any time.

It’s on these points that the league’s argument begins to waver.

Yahoo Sports asked the league on Tuesday’s conference call: Does betting on other sports impact the integrity of the NFL, or more the perception of the integrity of the game?

“The perception of it,” Perel responded. “We’re mindful of just gambling in general and the perception. Are we doing everything to make sure that there’s no negative association with those individuals both on the actual betting and the potential for the use of inside information?”

Basing legislation on association and perception — which is fickle among constituents, inconsistent depending on time period and wholly subjective — is risky. Sure, the NFL has the power to give rules to its employees. Guidelines for non-player personnel constitute “a decision we can make unilaterally,” NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy Jeff Miller said Tuesday. Policies for players, in contrast, are subject to backlash from the NFL Players Association.

While the union and league have not officially negotiated a gambling policy into the collective bargaining agreement, what the league calls “conversations” between the two parties have long given players leeway to bet outside the facility.

The league defends restrictions on players betting as akin to rules employees of other corporations would encounter.

“There are lots of rules governing the workplace,” Miller said. “Lots of things that you can’t do at work that you can do at home.”

Perel doubled down on that point.

“If integrity of the game is a No. 1 priority, why are we having any gambling on the premises at all?” she said. “If you’re going to do it, you can do that on your personal time.”

Unless, of course, you’re one of the roughly tens of thousands of NFL coaches, scouts, athletic trainers, marketing directors, sales staffers or other league and club employees for whom that is prohibited.


If NFL wants to guard perception, it’s entitled to — consequences and all

The NFL is a private corporation. It can allow and restrict rules as it pleases, and it even has the freedom to legislate inconsistently if it desires. Demand for league jobs will likely always exceed the supply of them given the overwhelming popularity of the NFL in the United States.

But if the league is going to ban gambling because of perception — which Perel confirmed, and already seemed apparent — it’s fair also to consider the perceptions that NFL inconsistency creates.

If the league wants to install layers of barriers between league staff placing even non-football bets, why is the league hosting its next Super Bowl in the betting mecca of Las Vegas? Why has the NFL moved one of its precious 32 teams to Las Vegas? And why are franchises and the league itself now entering into partnership with sports betting entities — even as NFL personnel are prohibited from advertising with or marketing gambling entities?

Miller emphasized that league policy on gambling hasn’t changed much in recent years; it’s simply become more applicable as betting and especially legal have become ubiquitous.

“In an increasingly challenged environment,” Miller said, “the integrity of the game still has to be paramount and will always be that way.”

Integrity of the game, however, appears not to be paramount in the NFL’s execution of its policy. Public perception is.

By that benchmark, the league is playing a losing hand.