In 2003, the NFL was among several groups attempting to prevent the state of Delaware from reintroducing a football-based lottery game. The NFL hired the law firm of Covington & Burlington to argue against allowing such bets, characterizing the football-based lottery as a predominately skill-based game, and therefore would be barred by the state’s own constitution.
“Sports betting combines both skill and chance, but the element of chance, though perhaps significant, is not ‘dominant,’” the Covington & Burlington lawyers wrote in a 2003 memo to the Delaware legislature. “Typical sports bettors gather and analyze information, sometimes in significant quantities, about the nuances of the sports on which they bet…they then weight the probabilities of each team winning and compare their determinations to those of the odds-maker.”
A similar argument was made by Lynch in the United States v. DiCristina in 2013, explaining how certain sports bettors move betting lines, a technique similar to bluffing in poker.
“While a sports bettor cannot (legally) influence the outcome of a game, sports bettors can and do influence the ‘betting line’ or ‘point spread’ in order to improve their odds of making a successful bet. Specifically, a gambler intending to make a large bet on one team may first place one or more smaller, strategic bets on the other team to move the betting line and make it more favorable for the ultimate intended bet.”
Lynch also used Las Vegas sports bettor and businessman Billy Walters as an example of sports betting being a skill.
The NFL’s strategy in the Delaware legislative process worked, as the state scrapped its plans while Lynch’s argument resulted in a Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In March of this year, a federal appeals court ruled on the side of the DOJ, four pro sports leagues and the NCAA against Gov. Chris Christie and the state of New Jersey‘s desire to offer legal wagering on sports events.
The NBA underwent something of a change of heart after Commissioner Adam Silver called on Congress to create a federal framework that would allow states to regulate sports betting while some of the other leagues have been considering revising or softening their position in this regard.
However, the NFL remains one of the chief opponents of legalizing sports betting in the United States and the league doesn’t see its position changing going forward.