The NFL’s general disapproval of sports gambling will be called into question once more as Frank Fertitta III, CEO of Station Casinos, is reportedly interested in purchasing the Carolina Panthers. Jerry Richardson, the Panther’s current owner, announced he would sell the team back in mid-December following a growing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and racist language. He had been the team’s only owner since its inception in 1993.
Fertitta III is no stranger to the sports world as he and his brother, Lorenzo, bought the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for $2 million in 2001 and built it into a $4.2 billion behemoth in around 15 years. Interestingly enough, the brothers’ distant cousin Tilman Fertitta, owner of Landry's Inc. restaurant corporation and Golden Nugget Casinos, bought the NBA's Houston Rockets last year for $2.2 billion.
The Panthers, according to Forbes.com, are valued at 2.3 billion. But as can be inferred by recent moves in conditional support of legalized sports betting, the NBA is more lenient towards gambling relative to the other U.S. pro sports leagues.
The NFL’s actions in the recent past point to a much harsher stance, as the league has gone to painstaking lengths to distance itself from casino culture. Back in June 2016 a lawsuit followed a case in which the NFL threatened to keep its players from attending a charity event (Strikes for Kids) that was scheduled to be held at a bowling alley located on Sunset Station Casino property.
Later that year, when the state of Nevada approved a $750 million stadium plan in its attempt to draw the Oakland Raiders to Vegas, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear that the potential relocation would do little to impact the league’s views:
“We remain very much opposed to gambling on sports. .... We want to make sure we're doing what's right for the game.”
All that being said, the NFL hasn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of the eventual legalization of sports betting. The league has even displayed some forms of acceptance with the actual approved relocation of the Raiders and the allowance of Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, to maintain an interest in casinos that allow sports betting via an investment firm (Apollo Global Management).
As recently as last month, Goodell addressed the U.S.’s shifting landscape regarding gaming in a radio interview with ESPN’s Trey Wingo and Mike Golic:
“We see changes going on. Obviously I don’t think ten years ago most people would have looked at having an NFL franchise or an NHL franchise in Las Vegas. Clearly there are changes occurring, the Supreme Court is considering changes potentially in laws with respect to gambling across our country. And I think we’re going to be prepared as a league to address those, no matter how the Supreme Court comes out, but also how things continue to evolve. I think we have, but we are going to protect the integrity of the game, I assure you of that.”
Fertitta III was originally rumored to be a lead candidate to purchase the Raiders as they made their move to Sin City, but those reports never materialized. While he would likely be expected to divest interest in Station due to the expected speculation of conflicts of interest, owing an NFL franchise is reportedly a lifelong dream of his.
Even if he were pressured into giving up his casino roots, the allowance of Fertitta III to purchase the team by the NFL would continue to send signals of gradually easing up on gambling. Hopefully if and when the NFL changes its stance, it doesn't go the route of the NBA or even MLB and try to take massive 'fees' in return for support.