NFL, NHL Teams Bet On Casino Construction

Do Sports Teams And Casinos Mix?

The New England Patriots and Florida Panthers are seeking financial victories where many states do these days -- in casino construction. Both sports franchises have announced plans this December to use their property for gambling complexes.

For fans used to hearing professional leagues preach how they want to keep their integrity in the face of gambling interests, the developments might seem surprising.

"There's always been an uneasy relationship between sports and gambling," said Scott Andresen, a sports law professor at Northwestern and Columbia College-Chicago. "Maybe this brings it out into the open more."

Each plan has its own challenges. Patriots owner Robert Kraft and casino mogul Steve Wynn have teamed up to woo the Boston suburb of Foxborough, Mass., into building a $1 billion complex near Gillette Stadium. Kraft owns the property and would profit by leasing the land to the casino. The NFL forbids owners being directly involved with casinos and frowns on a lot of other activity related to gambling, but the league is taking a wait-and-see approach with this venture. "Nothing has been presented to us concerning the specifics of any arrangement," an NFL spokesman said. "If and when that occurs, we will evaluate the transaction under our policies."

Kraft promised the complex would be more New England woodsy than Vegas glitzy, the Boston Globe reported. He also promised to create jobs. That's the same refrain made by many casino-building states trying to shrink their combined $95 billion deficit amid rampant unemployment. In November, Massachusetts became the latest state to allow casino expansion. Kraft, whose team has won three Super Bowls, will tell the town why he feels his plan is a winner on Jan. 10. Foxborough would have to approve the proposal in a public referendum. Kraft and the Patriots did not return a request for comment.

"As successful as the Patriots are, they only have a finite number of games," Andresen said. "That leaves a whole lot of other days when they're not making revenue on their property."

The same cash-creating mandate seems to apply to the Florida teams in the casino hunt. The NHL's Panthers hold a long-term lease on the land around their BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., and have entertained pitches from Wynn Resorts and other casino bigs, the Miami Herald reported. Just one catch: Florida has yet to approve the doling out of more casino licenses. Just in case it happens, though, the football Dolphins said in October they were also looking into developing property around Sun Life Stadium.

"Is there a conflict of interest per se? No," Andresen said of the three team's ventures. "Is it something they have to be careful about the way they handle it? Yes."

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