Renewed Vibe in Vegas Smacks of Football Season

Renewed Vibe in Vegas Smacks of Football Season
By David A Lane of

There are times when living in this crazy place can surely get under your skin; however, the beginning of football season is definitely not one of those. Going to the sports book during football weekends, Mondays, and Thursdays is a place to see friends, enjoy the games and cash tickets. The National Football League a league founded on gambling but will never admit it- brings this town back into high gear this time of year as it also brings back big business for the offshore sportsbooks. Not everyone can, could, or would want to live in Vegas after all.

As much as they turn there backs on it, the NFL owes its roots to gaming as its founders searched for some way to provide action to its clientele on Sundays- at the time there was nothing. Historys equivalents to Tony Soprano or Paulie Cicero in Goodfellas, these businessmen had looked to the old Ohio Football League (1903-1919), which by then had become the American Professional Football Association (1920, 1921)- a loosely knit group of teams that a short time later became the NFL in 1921- as the vehicle to provide this action. Strangely enough, it would be another 12 years later in 1933 before there actually was a championship game for the title due to rule discrepancies, undefined schedules, and the fact that Blue Laws in some states had to be changed allowing play on Sundays before new teams could be added such as the Pittsburgh Steelers (Pirates at the time) in 1932.

Art Rooney, founder of the Steelers and one of the NFLs pioneers, as legend has it paid his $2500 entrance fee to the league in 1933 with winnings from a parlay of two long shots he hit at Saratoga racetrack- which probably amounts to the greatest parlay winner in the history of the world if you mix in the value of what the team is worth today. Rooney was then and his family still is now involved in gaming- so much so that theyve been asked by the league to sell the team thanks to their adding slot machines at their horse tracks in New York and Florida because of it- as was New York Giants founder who had originally helped to recruit Rooney to start his new team in Pittsburgh- Tim Mara.

Mara, a bookmaker- which was legal at the time- had purchased the New York Giants in 1925 for a reported $500. He had been fighting the assumption by the public that the college game was a better product for many years so he arranged a game for charity in 1930 that his Giants won against a mighty Notre Dame team featuring some coach named Knute Rockne who had players known as the legendary Four Horsemen- one that began to give the pro league some respect from fans. The beginning of the championship game in 1933 brought about a new legitimacy to the game and with it a new found popularity. Further, teams were being located in larger cities making them bigger attractions that drew increasingly larger crowds.

Among other owners, Eddie DeBartolo Sr had started out as a paving contractor before using his savvy to soon become known as the father of the modern American shopping mall, and, of course, an owner of several horse tracks. As a businessman, he knew how to grease palms and get things done if you know what I mean. In 1977 he purchased the San Francisco 49ers and gave the team to his son Eddie Jr. who did a terrific job running the team, however, was asked to sell the team shortly after he had been indicted for giving $400,000 to Louisianna Governor Edwin Edwards- the money allegedly was asked for by the governor in return for a gambling license to run a casino barge on the Mississippi River- but DeBartolo Jr later claimed he didnt know what the money was for (to remain in NFLs good graces) and said that he never received any gambling license. He later testified against Edwards to lessen the charges against him and then later handed control of the team over to his sister Marie Denise DeBartolo York in 2000 as the league had instructed him to do. Presently, he is trying to put an ownership group together to possibly buy the St. Louis Rams from Georgia Frontierre and move them to Los Angeles- stay tuned on that one.

Obviously, this league has some roots that go back to gambling- the reason to this day that corporate ownership of teams is banned- and, as much as it tries to turn its back on its past, the popularity of this sport continually has grown. Ratings are large and interest seems to be rising for a reason- the public likes to have action on NFL games which keeps them watching. Combine that with all the games being accessible these days- I remember huddling next to one TV trying desperately to watch the closed circuit feed off of a C-band dish in the old days- there should be little wonder that the NFL ratings and the cumulative dollar amount of its wagering handle have both grown exponentially over the years.

Many would argue that much of the popularity fantasy football games generate is also gambling related since players compete for cash or other prizes. The NFL embraces this newfound interest and the dollars it provides with open arms yet takes a far different tact on gambling related interests- refusing to run Las Vegas promotional ads during the Super Bowl. Players and gamblers love the action and excitement generated either way- but why does the NFL think it needs to distance itself?

Is it much like the scene in Goodfellas when Paulie hands Henry Hill a measly $3200 for a lifetime of service to the family when he comes to him broke and helpless after leaving prison- Im going to have to turn my back on you now, he says? When Tim Mara and the other owners in the NFL realized in 1933 that preserving the leagues rules and making policies that were fair and would benefit all teams involved it was good for the league and they were onto something. Distancing themselves from their gambling related roots could only do more to build on the leagues reputation for being impartial to who won and to keep from being hurt by conspiracy claims.

The league has profited endlessly from this policy as it has grown into an entity unmatched in sports. Real life people who did real life things before us shouldnt be ostracized now for things we look back on and see being taboo, after all, it was a different time and they did help guide the league to where it is now. The greatest owners in both the sports and casino business have been affiliated guys and theres nothing wrong with that.

The reasons the NFL follows their own policies to a tee are crystal clear- continuity of the rules makes the game more fair, balanced, competitive, predictable, and reputable- by letting the lesser teams draft earlier, scheduling the more successful teams from the year before against only the other successful teams mostly, and instituting a salary cap, they have reached a level of parity where any team can rise up from game to game and/or year to year keeping it fun for fans. Even back in the mob run world of the 1930s the founding fathers of the league we all so much enjoy today had the brilliance and the foresight to understand that the more evenly they applied the rules, policies, and talent among the teams the more credible the product had become. The world could use a few more guys like Mara, a real life Don Corleone who found a way to get things done- something to think about while you watch with some friends, cash some winning tickets of your own, and enjoy the games this kickoff weekend. Salute!