As We See It

[Vegas on My Mind]

A Super Bowl in New Jersey contradicts the NFL’s no-Vegas policy

Double standard? The Vegas-hating NFL’s decision to hold this year’s Super Bowl in New Jersey—where online gambling is legal—seems a tad hypocritical.
Fred R. Conrad, The New York Times

Here we are again, days from another Super Bowl. This time, it’s a matchup between two teams, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, so comparable that even the Strip’s oddsmakers say anything can happen.

But there are two things you can definitely take to the bank. One, more people will flock to Vegas to watch the “Big Game”—as the NFL requires resorts to call it under threat of copyright lawsuit—than will descend on the Meadowlands and its environs to do the same. And, two, the NFL will once again ban advertisers from making even a passing reference to or offering even a glimpse of Las Vegas, the Strip or any of our casinos.

This itself isn’t new, but there is a 2014 twist: This big game will take place in a state that now officially has even more liberal and pervasive gambling laws than Nevada.

Nine weeks ago, New Jersey legalized online gambling, including all manner of casino games on any device. Meanwhile, in the Silver State, only poker can be played online. That means that the MetLife Stadium on Sunday could very well be filled with thousands of people playing slots and blackjack while they watch the game.

Here is what NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, who didn’t respond to my request for a comment this week, told me for AOL News in 2011: “Simply put, gambling and sports do not mix, and we are committed to keeping gambling away from our game. Sports gambling threatens the integrity of our game.”

If the NFL’s objection was limited to sports betting, it would be defensible (if still a bit impractical). It also would be awfully ungrateful, given that one of the main reasons people care about these games, even if they don’t live in Denver or Seattle, is that they put a little money on them in the office pool or at the party or, yes, in Vegas. Sports betting is not limited to Nevada, but legal, regulated, taxed sports betting for adults is. And you don’t hear the NFL objecting to every sports section in America listing the Vegas odds. The TV commentators themselves do so often enough throughout the season and on ESPN.

Still, if the objection to rubbing elbows with Vegas began and ended there, maybe they’d have a salvageable argument. They don’t.

In the early-2000s, the NFL rejected the “What Happens Here, Stays Here” ads, many of which made no mention of gambling at all. A few years later when NBC landed Sunday Night Football, the network was barred from airing promos of its Josh Duhamel soap Las Vegas during the games. NBC moved the show from its successful Monday time slot because what good is it if you can’t tell everyone watching what’s on tomorrow?

In 2010, the NFL was furious with CBS when a Kia Motors ad appeared during the Super Bowl showing the Yo Gabba Gabba sock monkey and friends cruising down the Strip and entering the Monte Carlo resort. Well, they were furious retroactively after I pointed out the infraction and asked if it was somehow a sanctioned example of the NFL’s own “looser” rules that “allow commercials for the destination as long as [they don’t] show the Strip, casinos, drinking or sexual activity.”

Nope. It was CBS being bad, and they apologized for it. A year later, in 2011, the NFL forced Vegas’ local Fox affiliate to dump $360,000 in local ads during the Super Bowl for Station Casinos after I asked if that was okay.

Of course, the NFL’s policy has nothing to do with sports betting. That’s what makes it so easy to show its insanity. The policy is about a cartoon-land understanding by commissioner Roger Goodell of today’s culture, which regards casinos as no more sinful than bars or R-rated movies. It’s the same reason Disney claims it needs to safeguard its brand by opposing full-fledged casinos in Orlando, a weird corporate responsibility ethos that ignores its pedophile-priest movie and the fact that The Lion King played Vegas for years.

In the NFL’s case, though, it’s even more ridiculous. The policy dictates no images of drinking or sexual activity as it pertains to the Strip. That’s it. They’re not opposed to drinking or sexual activity in ads, as seen by the dominance of beer commercials and the now-traditional GoDaddy spots featuring Danica Patrick.

And now it comes full circle. The NFL has held many Super Bowls in states and cities with casinos, including New Orleans last year. They claim there’s no contradiction in the policy because the ballpark is separate from those other establishments.

Except now, in New Jersey—and no other place in the nation—the casino is everywhere that there’s Wi-Fi. And still, for some bizarre reason that they’ve given up on trying to explain, even a glimpse of the Vegas skyline will destroy the brand.

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and USA Today, among many other outlets.
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