Home » The Long Odds of This Year’s Super Bowl Location

The Long Odds of This Year’s Super Bowl Location

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For years, the NFL balked at even a whiff of gambling—and kept Las Vegas at a distance as a result. But as the league has become more open to gambling, it has also embraced the city synonymous with it.

First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic:

In the Shadow of the Strip

People are betting on just about anything these days. But something few would have bet on even a decade ago? That the Super Bowl would be held in Las Vegas.

The NFL’s decision to hold the game in the city is an about-face for a league that, for decades, shunned even the faintest association with gambling. The league, and especially its influential longtime commissioner Pete Rozelle, was fixated on the risks of compromising the league’s integrity and reputation. “No one does, or could, dispute the absolute necessity of keeping our game free not only from scandal but, even more so, from suspicion of scandal,” Rozelle told government officials in 1975. In the late 1960s, he threatened to suspend the quarterback Joe Namath over his stake in a nightclub associated with gambling; earlier in the same decade, the NFL suspended two Hall of Famers for sports betting.

This harsh posture on gambling, and on Vegas by extension, continued over the decades: In 2003, the NFL refused to air a commercial from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority during the Super Bowl, on the grounds that it had the right to refuse ads related to gambling—even though the ad itself did not have explicit gambling content. In 2012, a lawyer for the league doubled down, saying that an association with sports betting would “negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country.” In 2015, the NFL prohibited players from attending a fantasy-sports convention headlined by Tony Romo, because it was being held at a space attached to a Vegas casino.

That the league is having this year’s Super Bowl in the shadow of the Strip is “mind-boggling,” Andrew Brandt, a sports-industry commentator and the executive director of Villanova’s Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law, told me. But a few dynamics have helped the NFL come around on it. Over the past decade, the league became more comfortable with fantasy sports, which long operated in a legal gray area. “The feeling was that [fantasy football] was not gambling, and I think that really paved the way for acceptance into more real gambling,” Brandt explained. Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, two prominent NFL team owners, were early investors in DraftKings, the sportsbook company whose original focus was fantasy sports.

Another factor was the allure of the wide-open market for sports in Las Vegas, especially as other sports leagues started to expand into the city. In 2017, the NHL established a team in Vegas; the WNBA announced that it would move a team there too. That same year, NFL ownership voted to let the Raiders move from Oakland to Vegas. (Even then, however, Roger Goodell, the current NFL commissioner, expressed concerns about gambling.) The conversation on gambling had begun to shift by that point: In 2014, the NBA commissioner wrote a New York Times op-ed noting that, although his and other leagues were historically gambling-cautious, he felt it was time to make sports betting legal.

But the change that most accelerated the NFL’s shift in posture was the 2018 Supreme Court decision that allowed states to authorize sports betting. That opened the floodgates of the multibillion-dollar industry; sports betting is now legal in 38 states, as well as in Washington, D.C. Some 68 million adults are reportedly projected to wager an estimated $23 billion on the Super Bowl this year, setting new records for gambling in the United States. “Sports betting is embedded in our consciousness right now,” Brandt said, adding that his own podcast on the business of sports is sponsored by DraftKings.

Betting is hugely lucrative for almost every facet of the football industry. Ads from sports-betting apps such as DraftKings have become a mainstay of Super Bowl commercial breaks (the NFL announced that three such ads are slated to appear during the national broadcast this weekend). The NFL has entered partnerships with sportsbooks that could be worth a reported $1 billion for the league over the next few years; it has also donated to the National Council on Problem Gambling. A spokesperson for the NFL emphasized in an email that “protecting the integrity of the game” is of the “utmost importance” to the league, and added that “using our platform to promote responsible gambling is also a key focus.”

“Betting, once completely excluded from mainstream sports, is now inextricable from nearly every level of the business,” my colleague Amanda Mull wrote last summer. Gambling has also, in the course of just a few years, become a core part of the experience of sports for millions of Americans. Though some surely sought out ways to gamble before it was legal, many sports fans are now likely gambling for the first time. As Amanda writes, “The game is over. Betting won.”


Today’s News

  1. Senate Republicans blocked a bipartisan bill that included foreign-aid and border-policy provisions. Democrats are moving forward with a foreign-aid-only bill that drops the immigration measures.
  2. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas’s proposal for a cease-fire and hostage release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners; Netanyahu declared instead that Israel will fight until “absolute victory.”
  3. A U.S. strike in Baghdad killed a senior commander of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that the Pentagon linked to the recent attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members.


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Evening Read

Illustration by The Atlantic. Sources: H. Armstrong Roberts; Thomas Yeoh / Getty.

Lab Diamonds Are Too Perfect for Their Own Good

By Amanda Mull

Last year, a funny thing happened at Ring Concierge’s Manhattan showroom. A bride-to-be brought her engagement ring back to the popular jewelry store after wearing it for a few weeks and wanted to trade out her diamond for a worse one. The woman was worried that the original rock was too clear, too bright, too perfect for its large size, Ring Concierge’s CEO, Nicole Wegman, told me …

Brides sometimes bring in new rings for tweaks … That the central diamond is too good, however, is just not a complaint that jewelers get, except in cases of totally blown budgets. But this particular bride wasn’t worried that she’d spent too much money, Wegman said. In a sense, the bride was worried that she hadn’t spent enough.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break

A still from the new Percy Jackson and the Olympians, showing Percy, Annabeth, and Grover standing together

Watch. Percy Jackson and the Olympians (out now on Disney+) is a faithful adaptation, Elise Hannum writes. But what happened to the fun?

Read.Happiness,” a poem by Mamie Morgan:

“At the Airbnb in Carqueiranne, our king bed’s actually two / mechanical singles scooched together. With remotes, we govern / how high to raise his feet, my arms, entire bodies / butt-down birds inside plush porcelain cups.”

Play our daily crossword.


In case you missed it in November, I recommend checking out my colleague Charlie Warzel’s dispatch from the Strip—incredibly titled “Sphere and Loathing in Las Vegas”—about the American West’s newest, largest screen.

— Lora

Stephanie Bai contributed to this newsletter.

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