Cardinals, NFL not talking about potential casino naming-rights deal

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The interest of a casino company in purchasing the naming rights to the Cardinals stadium is real. Neither the Cardinals nor the NFL are saying anything about it, yet.

As explained by Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today, Gila River Gaming Enterprises confirmed that it’s talking to the Cardinals about replacing University of Phoenix as the presenting sponsor of the Arizona NFL stadium.

“This pertains to the stadium naming rights,” Gila River told USA Today, before entering into a non-disclosure agreement. “This is a result of continued communications with the Arizona Cardinals through our strong existing relationship.”

The NFL referred Schrotenboer to the Cardinals for comment, and the Cardinals declined comment.

The NFL has a strong aversion to the promotion of gambling and casinos. But with an NFL franchise moving to Las Vegas, many believe it’s just a matter of time before the NFL abruptly changes its mind about allowing casinos to buy naming rights, in the same way the NFL abruptly changed its mind about Las Vegas.

Who’s going to offer the most to buy the naming rights to the Raiders stadium in Las Vegas? It surely will be a casino company.

While the league continues to cling publicly to its disdain for all things gambling, the NFL continues to creep slowly but surely toward embracing it — with the key being the potential elimination of a federal law that prevents states from legalizing sports wagering and, thereafter, states systematically getting in on the action. Albert Breer of recently pointed out that the various sports unions have been meeting in anticipation of the legalization of gambling.

“We’re collaborating on it,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told Breer. “We might be open to changes that are coming because of [legalized sports gambling], but before we get to the revenue aspect of it, do we have the infrastructure in place to prevent any sort of shenanigans? That’s the issue.”

It won’t be the job of the unions to prevent shenanigans, but the unions will be negotiating with the leagues about the rules, regulations, and consequences of any shenanigans that occur.

Leagues and unions need to worry not simply about shenanigans but about the increased regulation that could come from legalized gambling. Blown calls or other irregularities that result in millions of dollars changing hands will prompt cries from politicians for oversight. That’s why it will be important for the NFL to create the impression that it’s doing everything it can to improve officiating — and also to insist on the kind of transparency regarding injury reports that will eliminate any inside information that can be plied or purchased from players, coaches, or other team employees.

Ultimately, the league will deem the potential development of a Federal Sports Integrity Commission to be an acceptable risk, if the league finds a way to harness a cut of the billions of dollars currently being wagered on NFL games without the NFL getting its cut. If/when the NFL gets its cut, Commissioner Roger Goodell’s $25 billion annual revenue objective won’t be the ceiling, but the basement.