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Robert Kraft Makes a Gamble on Legalizing Sports Betting

With the COVID-19 pandemic having caused a cooling effect for many sports fans, the NFL is taking a new approach to getting people involved in professional sports by backing the legalization of sports betting. This lucrative asset, backed by online gambling and sportsbooks in states that allow sports wagering, has finally received the nod from all 32 NFL team owners, having been convinced that their brand will be enhanced. With an anticipated 90 percent of the fan base in favor of the idea, legalization isn’t far behind.

The NFL is all-in for this process, with multiyear partnerships being formed with companies handling the data and technology side, specifically Genius as the official data provider, as well as gaming companies. The seven sportsbook NFL partners are using a two-tier system to advertise on official NFL platforms, with the three official partners, FanDuel, Caesars and DraftKings, using the NFL shield logo and similar trademarks during their marketing process.

Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft is enthusiastic about the prospect and is hoping for all states to get on board with sports betting. Though his team is located in Massachusetts, where sports betting is not yet approved, he mentioned his hope during a Forbes interview for the state to legalize sports-related gambling.

“Look, Massachusetts doesn’t have it, New Hampshire does; the governor of New Hampshire loves this situation because people are pouring over the border going up to New Hampshire and dropping a lot of change. I think our game, especially given that we have the 40-second breaks, is made for prop betting and all kinds of interactivity and gaming opportunities.”

His son Jonathan is both president of The Kraft Group and one of the eight members of the Legalized Sports Betting Committee sanctioned by league owners. Both Jonathan and Robert Kraft recognize the thoughtful approach that must be taken in legalizing gambling in the very state where Robert was born and raised.

Among issues that must be addressed, even as Boston’s professional sports teams are pushing for legalization, are using official data, sharing data, using dedicated regulators, knowing the customers, and limiting prop bets that could be problematic. However, even as they push legalized sports betting forward, the NFL as a whole has limits on betting ads for each game. Currently, only six betting ads can be shown per game in an attempt to limit betting discussion in pre-fame, in-game, and post-game conversations, allowing the game’s presentation to remain more traditional.

One experiment that has helped push the process forward was an alternative broadcast on ESPN+ last season. Combining advanced analytics and sports betting information visualization, the experiment was deemed a strong success by the NFL, with expectations that the NFL will continue using these options to include odds as graphics tools in the future.

Part of this shift is due to the 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to open sports betting across the United States. This shift in legality has reduced the risk of putting off anti-gambling owners and fans. The NFL decided to start pursuing the option following a survey of its fans, finding active anti-gambling individuals in the minority, with only existing, frequent sports gamblers having lower figures and the remainder of the fan base indifferent or casual gamblers.

Among the reasons why NFL team owners such as Robert Kraft are pushing for legalization in all states are the sheer figures involved, with an estimated $12 billion being legally gambled on this season’s NFL games, excluding parlays. At the same time, professional football remains much stronger in terms of gambling than other sports, remaining 3.5 times higher than professional basketball, 4 times higher than college football, 5 times higher than professional baseball, and 20 times higher than professional hockey.

Though legalization of sports betting in the Patriots’ home state remains up in the air, one thing is for certain: sports betting is here to stay. After coming out of the dark from shady dealings with bookies who may or may not behave honorably in the process, this form of gambling is enjoying its time in the limelight. With the higher level of acceptance by the fans and better legality, availability online, and standardization of the process, team owners like Robert Kraft are looking forward to being able to cash in their chips on this lucrative new gambling option.

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