Tell me you’re shilling for a sportsbook without telling me you’re shilling for a sportsbook.
That’s pretty much what happened last Friday, when MGM Resorts International and the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) announced, via press release, an “events and hospitality partnership.”
From the release: “[A]ctive NFL players and NFL alumni will be eligible to enter into individual ambassador agreements to promote MGM Resorts through appearances, social media posts, autographed memorabilia, and advertisements.” They will also be collaborating on “creating new content and fan experiences.”
Well good for the NFLPA. Their members can be in MGM commercials and everything else. No problem, right?
Exciting news! We are partnering with @NFLPA to bring exclusive experiences and original content to our guests.
Stay tuned for more details on how you can get up close and personal with your favorite players, past and present!
Learn more: https://t.co/uV6gCntyld pic.twitter.com/mzstS02EOP
— MGM Resorts (@MGMResortsIntl) January 27, 2023
Well, there is the little issue about how NFL players and employees aren’t allowed to shill for sportsbooks. But, of course, no one is saying they’re going to be shilling for sportsbooks. They’re going to be shilling for MGM Resorts. It just so happens — coincidence, I’m sure — that MGM has a little side online sports betting hustle we know as “BetMGM.” But of course, no one is going to confuse the two, right?
‘A laughable move’
“I find this to be a laughable move,” said Dr. Aaron Moore, a Rider University sports media professor who examines the sports betting industry. “Take it at face value, not the legalese associated with it. Players can now promote sportsbooks. That is the way the average fan will see it. The average sports fan, especially those new to a relationship with the gaming industry, have no idea about the corporate flow chart of a company like MGM. They don’t know how the sportsbook, casino, and corporate entities are separated. They just see the name MGM, the logo, and associate it with BetMGM, a name they see repeatedly on commercials these days.
“For the average sports fan,” Moore continued, “any player promoting MGM will be seen as advocating for its sportsbook.”
I mean, it certainly seems that way, doesn’t it?
Honestly, I couldn’t care less if the NFL allowed its players to hype a sportsbook. The NHL allows it, and — shocker — BetMGM has waded into those icy waters, signing Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers as the first active player to be an “ambassador” for a sportsbook. (By the way, this “ambassador” term is so silly. I picture McDavid in a tuxedo, a beautiful Russian diplomatic attache at his side, champagne flute in hand, quietly negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and the Charlestown Chiefs.)
Major League Baseball allows “ambassadors” as well, with Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies having become the first, signing a deal with the now-defunct MaximBet.
So there’s already precedent for major sports leagues to have their players be on the payroll of sportsbooks. We can argue the merits of that another time.
But for the NFL to allow its players to advertise for the parent company of a sportsbook, but not the sportsbook itself, is, while maybe not the height of hypocrisy, certainly somewhere near the top of the hypocrisy yardstick. Like around 33 inches or so.
What a world
“If you saw this press release in 2010, you would’ve been like, ‘This is complete science fiction. This is never going to happen,’” said Timothy Fong, M.D., the co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program. “In less than five years, we reversed 100 years of how we view gambling and sports.”
Fong believes the deal, despite the fact that the players won’t directly be advertising for sportsbooks, creates a wide swath of gray area.
“This is very vague. MGM experiences … they have pools, parties, food, concerts,” Fong said. “You know, it’s like, ‘This is Pat Mahomes telling you all about MGM’s wonderful summer pool cabana party,’ but in the back you see a blackjack table and the sportsbook. Or, ‘We have an autograph signing with Khalil Mack down in the Garden Room.’ It’s not advertising gambling, clearly, but it’s certainly bringing it together.”
Fong’s main issue, though? That these ads could be triggers for people with issues.
“What is this messaging doing to the most vulnerable populations?” he wonders.
Calvin Ridley enters the chat
Another wrinkle certainly worth noting: Players can advertise for the same company they’re not allowed to do personal business with. It would be like becoming a spokesperson for Kraft, but the NFL has banned mac and cheese.
“This makes the Calvin Ridley suspension look heavy handed as well,” Moore noted. “One day a player is banned for the season for making a legal sports bet, and then a few days later a player can promote the same corporate entity that took the bet, and not only go without a suspension, but get paid a lot of money to do so.”
A reminder for the Jaguars: Calvin Ridley can petition for reinstatement on February 15 and add an elite playmaker to an already ascending offense. pic.twitter.com/9jzoiJnqm0
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 22, 2023
And let’s not forget poor Miles Austin, the New York Jets receivers coach who was suspended for a year for betting on NBA games, because while NFL players are allowed to wager on other sports, NFL employees are forbidden from betting on sports, period.
But now the players are free to sell MGM products at will — except, of course, the sportsbook.
“If the NFL is going to get into contracts with existing gambling operators — and they obviously have — then I think the players association has to take this up with their bosses and say how can you, as a company, be doing this, but not allow us, as employees, to be making deals ourselves?” Fong noted. “That’s disingenuous.”
Emails from US Bets to MGM, the NFLPA, and the NFL went unreturned.