Pats owner’s casino ties expose NFL’s gambling hypocrisy

nfl-gambling-hypocrisy-robert-kraftThe National Football League’s disinterest in New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s stake in casino operator Caesars Entertainment is heaping fresh scorn on the league’s oft-criticized anti-gambling stance.

On Monday, sportswriter Bart Hubbuch published a lengthy article on Deadspin detailing his failed efforts to publish a story in the New York Post regarding Kraft’s (pictured right) involvement with Apollo Global Management, one of two hedge funds that purchased Caesars in 2008 before surrendering majority control last year via the casino company’s bankruptcy restructuring.

Hubbuch says his planned Post article detailing Kraft’s stake in Apollo, which also claims to hold “significant” investments in UK bookmakers Ladbrokes and US slot machine maker American Gaming Systems, was spiked on the orders of Post owner Rupert Murdoch – a close friend of Kraft’s – just half an hour after Hubbuch queried Patriots PR staff regarding Kraft’s gambling holdings.

The gist of Hubbuch’s planned article was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s (pictured left) disinterest in the major gambling holdings of one of the league’s more prominent owners. The issue has taken on extra significance given Goodell’s recent comments that the league had no intention of letting Las Vegas Sands boss Sheldon Adelson own a piece of the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders due to Adelson’s casino ownership.

The NFL told Hubbuch that Kraft’s Caesars ties – which have been public knowledge for years – weren’t a concern because the casino operator represented less than one-third of Apollo’s vast investment portfolio. Also, Kraft’s stake in Apollo was a mere $7m – while the fund has nearly $200b under management – and the league said it didn’t get its knickers in a twist unless one of its owners had a share greater than 5%.

However, the league does have a strict prohibition on its team owners serving as “an officer or director” of companies with ties to gaming and Kraft became one of Apollo’s directors in May 2014, two months after the anti-directorship policy took effect.

The NFL told Deadspin that Kraft’s directorship “was not an issue then and is not now” due to his relatively small investment in Apollo, which represents a miniscule portion of Kraft’s estimated $5.1b net worth.

Hubbuch chalks up this apparent disinterest in following the league’s own stated rules a reflection of the league permitting its commissioner to decide whether or not infractions have been committed “on a case-by-case basis.”

The NFL is widely perceived as the chief obstacle preventing America from admitting defeat in its ill-advised prohibition of sports betting, despite the league owing much of its popularity to Americans’ interest in wagering on the games’ outcomes. But as Hubbuch’s article indicates, the league’s policy remains inscrutable and unjustifiable, even to itself.