NFL Agreement Could Hold Up Sports Betting at Hard Rock AC

NFL Agreement Could Hold Up Sports Betting at Hard Rock AC

The state of New Jersey is ready to officially begin accepting legal sports bets as the appropriate legislation is expected to be put into place by the end of this week. While that legislation should include the necessary provisions for every casino and racetrack in the state to offer sports wagering, there’s one casino that could face a rockier road.

The brand new Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Atlantic City has not yet fully and formally announced its plans to offer sports betting. As the whirlwind of activity and hype that surrounds the opening of such a major undertaking is difficult enough to deal with, a partnership between Hard Rock International and the National Football League could make things even tougher.

Stadium Deal Presenting Issue

Located at the site of the former Trump Taj Mahal, the Hard Rock AC is slated to open June 28 of this year and expectations are high. Aside from world class gambling and accommodations, the casino has announced an entertainment lineup the likes of which Atlantic City hasn’t seen in years including top-notch musical and comedic headliners.

That being said, lagging behind the competition in terms of sports betting would no doubt be a setback for the fledgling business, and Hard Rock International CEO Jim Allen understands that completely.

In 2016 Hard Rock International entered a massive 18-year agreement with the NFL to obtain naming rights for the Miami Dolphins’ home stadium. The deal is worth approximately $250 million but details beyond that are confidential, and it’s unknown to what extent they could impact the company’s ability to allow sports betting at new properties outside Nevada.

Allen did address the deal, however, as well as its pertinence to the development of the Atlantic City property back on May 9th during a license hearing before the Casino Control Commission.

“We have certain restrictions in our agreement in Hard Rock Stadium with the NFL, but we’ve reviewed those restrictions based upon our confidential agreements with the NFL and the ownership of the Miami Dolphins. But, yes, we do think that sports betting would be great and tremendous for New Jersey. And the Hard Rock brand anticipates participating in that particular venue within the confines of our specific treatments with the National Football League and the Dolphins and Steve Ross, owner of the related group.”

NFL’s Anti-Gambling Stance a Potential Roadblock

Regardless of the May 14th decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to repeal PASPA, the 1992 federal ban on sports betting, the NFL has maintained a fairly consistent stance against such activity. The league’s specific policy on the issue reads:

“The NFL opposes all forms of illegal gambling, as well as legal betting on NFL games or other professional, college or Olympic sports. Such activity negatively impacts the interests, welfare and integrity of the NFL, its games, clubs, players and coaches, and diminishes public confidence in legitimate sport. Equally important, even social gambling among co-workers can lead to discord, violence and a loss of team cohesion.”

That being said, the NFL has recently approved the relocation of the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, where sports betting has been legal for decades. Also interesting is the fact that Hard Rock International operates a casino that offers sports betting in Vegas and did so when the Miami naming rights deal was agreed to. That leads one to believe exemptions were made with respect to the league’s official stance.

Resolution of Hard Rock Problem Could Set Precedent

Sports attorney and executive chairman of Herrick Feinstein LLP Irwin Kishner believes that these perceived exemptions could provide the framework for future dealings between the NFL and Hard Rock and the ultimate resolution of this quandary.

“In very substantial agreements, like a naming rights deal or a major sponsorship deal, it would not be unusual to have a provision that says, ‘This (agreement) is subject to the rules, regulations, bylaws, etc., of the National Football League.’ I would strongly suspect there was a provision which covered (sports wagering) in the naming rights agreement.”

While this particular agreement is currently holding only Hard Rock back in New Jersey, it does hold some major implications on how future business will be carried out between sports leagues and gambling operators.

It’s highly unlikely that sports leagues will come away from their at-best cautionary official feelings towards sports betting, but it may become commonplace for the leagues to allow for exemptions and compromise involving huge financial agreements.

That’s good news for proponents of sports betting as the SCOTUS decision continues to essentially force sports leagues like the NFL to comply with what is now federal regulation in defiance of the leagues’ policies.

It could be a slow process, and it could hurt Hard Rock’s business in Atlantic City out of the gates, but the way in which this problem is solved will likely mean a lot to other businesses who could find themselves in similar predicaments as sports betting assimilates into American society.

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