NFL Lobbyist Opens The Door To New Position On Daily Fantasy Leagues

The league doesn’t consider it “gambling" now, but if its legal status “were to change, we would change our view of it.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

WASHINGTON -- If the uncertain legal status of daily fantasy sports contests were to change, the NFL would re-evaluate its approach and acceptance of the industry, the league’s chief lobbyist said this week.

“Obviously, some state [attorneys general], some state legislatures, and Congress may look at this,” Cynthia Hogan, the NFL’s senior vice president of public policy and government affairs, told The Huffington Post. “If the status were to change, we would change our view of it.”

Scrutiny toward the fast-growing industry has intensified in recent weeks, particularly on the question of whether daily fantasy sports constitute the type of gambling that is illegal under federal law. Nevada classified daily fantasy as gambling earlier this month, and the Department of Justice, FBI and a Florida grand jury are currently investigating whether daily fantasy operators like DraftKings and FanDuel, the industry’s two titans, have violated state and federal gambling laws.

Daily fantasy operators say their contests do not constitute gambling as it is defined under the 2006 federal law that outlawed online gaming. The industry argues that it is protected under a provision of that law that protects fantasy sports as legal “games of skill.”

The NFL’s view that daily fantasy sports do not constitute traditional sports gambling, the legalization of which it has long opposed, has drawn cries of hypocrisy, but Hogan maintained that the contests do not pose the same perceived threat to the league.

“When we looked at fantasy, the concern for the integrity of sports really isn’t presented in the same way,” she said. “These daily games, or with football they’re actually weekend games, a player puts together sort of a mash-up of players from all different teams, all different games, so you don’t have the kind of threat of corruption because no one game outcome matters that much.”

The NFL operates its own traditional season-long fantasy contests, which Hogan acknowledged have help grow interest in -- and thus revenues for -- the league.

The daily fantasy industry’s presence in pre-game shows and NFL broadcasts no doubt draws similar interest to the sport. DraftKings and FanDuel have advertised ruthlessly during NFL games this season, and nearly 9 million players will wager roughly $1 billion in daily fantasy contests this year, according to estimates, with many of them participating in NFL-related games.

The NFL has not embraced daily fantasy sports quite as openly as its counterparts. Unlike the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, it does not invest in either of the two largest companies. But it is intertwined with the industry, as many of its teams have advertising relationships with daily fantasy companies, and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft both invest in them. NFL players are also allowed to participate in and promote daily fantasy contests.

The NFL has not shifted its stance on traditional gambling, as the NBA did publicly last year when commissioner Adam Silver called for the legalization of sports wagering (MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has said his league could re-evaluate its approach to sports gambling as well). It does, however, hold four games each season in London, where sports gambling is legal. 

The Miami Dolphins, who partner with DraftKings, said earlier this month that they would re-examine their relationship with the company "if their business model were deemed to be unlawful." But most of the 29 teams that partner with daily fantasy companies have not commented since the "insider trading" scandal that rocked the industry at the beginning of October, and for now it seems the league is merely trying to leave itself wiggle room in the event of a change in the industry’s legal status.

This week, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association announced the formation of a new agency meant to help self-regulate the daily fantasy industry, and the NFL is keeping a close eye on how the companies address the questions raised by the scandal, Hogan said.

“We certainly support strong consumer protections around this,” Hogan said. “We want our fans to feel that if they are playing fantasy, this is something where their interests are protected and certainly that there’s transparency about how the games work.”