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January 24, 2003

by Bill Hogan


The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority rolled the dice recently by producing a series of commercials promoting their tourist town in hopes of running the ads during Super Bowl XXXVII. The LVCVA rolled snake eyes.

ABC refused to give the LVCVA any airtime because of the NFL's efforts to disassociate itself with any kind of sports betting. Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is incensed – with good reason.


The whole country is feeling the effects of a slow economy, many businesses are hurting and the tourist industry is reeling – including the gambling Mecca. So the LVCVA plans to kick off a 58 million dollar ad campaign at the Super Bowl but the holier than thou NFL won't let them.

Because the NFL has a long standing "policy that prohibits any advertising that could associate the sport with gambling". The NFL is afraid that broadcasting an ad enticing people to visit "Sin City" will tarnish its squeaky-clean public image and compel fans to question the league's integrity.

A noble stance – but one that is way off base and blatantly hypocritical.

The relationship between the business of sports betting and the NFL goes back decades. When CBS was covering the NFC in the 1980's, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder was prominently featured during the station's weekly NFL pre-game show. Jimmy "the Greek" was a well known gambler, handicapper and prognosticator.

The NFL's relationship with CBS as a broadcast partner continues and Jimmy "the Greek" has given way to the information super highway. At the CBS sports website cbs.sportsline.com, you don't have to look too hard to find the betting lines for every professional sport as well as "expert" predictions.

"The NFL on CBS" – oh the ties that bind. I know, listing the point spread on the Super Bowl is a far cry from enabling people to make actual bets on the game. For that you'll have to go to www.vegasinsider.com. There you will find all sorts of sports wagering tips and information as well as a directory of online sports books where you can place your bets.

According to the banner at the top of the vegasinsider.com homepage, the site is "a Sportsline.com company". And the league sanctioned website NFL.com is "powered by Sportsline.com" – what a tangled web...

But running a 30-second half-time ad featuring Wayne Newton touting the $2.99 All-You-Can-Eat Buffet is a no-no? It seems the NFL is trying to keep one foot in the (betting) pool and the other planted firmly on the ground of (self) righteousness.

In 1963, two NFL stars were caught betting on football games. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Alex Karras (better remembered as the dad on the TV show Webster) and Green Bay Packers running back Paul Hornung were suspended "indefinitely".

"Indefinitely" turned out to be a single football season. And in 1986 Hornung was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Integrity?

Football fans didn't lose faith in the NFL forty years ago, but 30-seconds of Zigfried and Roy doing the mambo halfway through the second quarter is going to lead people to believe that the fix is in? That somehow Rich Gannon and Warren Sapp are on the take? That Al Davis must be in cahoots with Caesars Palace?

No sane fan would ever draw that conclusion. Not even the insane fans in Oakland's "black hole" could make that leap.

When Nike shows a butt-naked man running around an English soccer pitch comically eluding security guards, I don't automatically infer that the NFL is advocating public lewdness.

And when two beautiful women rip each others clothes off arguing the merits of great taste versus less filling, the thought that the NFL may be encouraging the lost art of cat fighting never enters my mind.

(Obviously the blonde's "less filling" position makes better sense. Most beer tastes great, the fact that it is less filling allows for greater beer consumption. But that doesn't mean I think the NFL condones binge drinking.)

If the NFL is really worried about public perception, they should drop that new Budweiser ad from any future broadcasts. No guy, under any circumstance, wants to hear an attractive female utter the ear-piercing words "bigger is better". Not ever. No way, no how.

Allowing the LVCVA to run a Super Bowl ad beckoning visitors to their struggling city would in no way damage the reputation of the NFL. Not allowing the ads, however, makes the NFL look pharisaical (that's why I keep a thesaurus handy) and sanctimonious.


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