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NFL Still Pretending it Doesn’t Like Gambling

Despite being the most popular professional sports league in the United States, the National Football League (NFL) has had a bit of an image problem lately. Whether it is not really caring about the head injuries its athletes suffer on the field of play or not really caring about the head injuries its athletes inflict on their wives off the field of play, the league can’t seem to do much of anything right when it comes to public relations. Now the NFL has decided suck more joy out of the lives of its players and fans, forcing players to pull out of events because of ties to gambling.

The first incident came to light late last week when FOX Sports reported that the inaugural National Fantasy Football Convention, slated for a month from now in Las Vegas, would be cancelled because it was being held at a gambling establishment and NFL players were involved.

The event was actually organized by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and was billed as a fun convention in which football fans could not only get together for some fantasy football talk, but also interact with many star players. Among those scheduled to attend were Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, and Romo’s ex-teammate, new Philadelphia Eagle running back DeMarco Murray.

Apparently it is somehow against NFL rules for players to be at all associated with casinos. League representatives allegedly called players and even players’ parents, threatening them (not the parents) with fines and suspensions if they attended.

Romo is none too pleased about it, saying that the letter the league sent to players was a dumb “scare tactic,” and that if it was really concerned about the event, it should have done something about it sooner. It is now too late to find a new venue.

“They talk about how no players or NFL personnel are to be associated [with casinos], well, I’m like, that doesn’t really make sense,” Romo told ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd. “There’s just far too many cases and it does make it sound sometimes that it’s an issue about money, which is disappointing because we were just trying to get the fans to hang out with players.”

And he’s right. The NFL owes much of its popularity to sports betting and fantasy football. While the league tries to pretend it is opposed to gambling, it knows damn well that without those it, millions of people who currently pay attention to the sport every week would tune out, or at the very least not bother paying for expensive television packages and subscribing to fantasy sports sites. But in this case, the league isn’t getting a cut, so screw everybody.

In the meantime, the Detroit Lions have inked a deal with the MGM Grand Detroit to have the casino sponsor a special, luxury “MGM Grand Detroit Tunnel Club” that will give about 100 fans a close-up view of the players leaving and entering the locker room. But hey, the NFL will see a monetary benefit from this, so all is well.

On the bright side, the convention was going to be held at the Sands Expo (and before that, the Venetian), so at least Sheldon Adelson’s company won’t be making as much money that weekend.

The National Fantasy Football Convention will give it another shot next year in Los Angeles, presumably at a church or a children’s hospital or something.

And then there is the Seminole Casino Coconut Creek in Coconut Creek, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale; it served as host to the WPT Regional Florida event in 2013. This past Tuesday, the casino held a monthly $94 buy-in poker tournament called “The Andy Slater ‘See You Later’ Poker Tournament,” named after a local sports radio personality. The player to knock out Slater received a free entry plus an extra $200.

The tourney was also to feature five special guests with bounties on their heads, three of which were Miami Dolphins defensive tackle A.J. Francis, offensive lineman Jason Fox, and Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron (who has also appeared on FX’s “The League,” a comedy about a group of friends and their obsession with fantasy football). TMZ reported Tuesday that the NFL, just like in Tony Romo’s convention situation, contacted the players and told them that they were not allowed to attend the event.

This was just a normal poker tournament, and the NFL would certainly look even worse if it was a charity event of some sort, but it is still ridiculous how much the league is being a wet towel. This was simply a way for a few Dolphins players to meet some fans and have fun, all while giving the fans a chance to compete with them in a venue in which they would actually have a shot to win. It was good public relations for the players and the Dolphins. But, as usual, the NFL had to go and blow it.

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