The NFL Biggest Risk about a Las Vegas Team is coming true.
If they thought it was gambling on games, they were mistaken.
The rationale behind the NFL and other professional U.S leagues not having a team in Las Vegas was centered around match fixing. Thoughts of the 1919 White Sox scandal, the Pete Rose betting scandal, the 1994 Arizona State Basketball team, and the 2004 Toledo Rockets Basketball and Football scandal all come to mind.
The fear was that having a professional team located in Las Vegas was going to make the opportunity and temptation for match fixing worse and it was going to increase the likelihood of match-fixing and point-shaving. This in turn would affect the integrity of the game; causing fans to lose interest on two fronts.
- Fans who are betting would believe that others have inside information thus making an dangerous bet even riskier.
- Sports carry a large advantage in the media space. It is one of the few events that most people prefer to watch live because it is talked about widely amongst different media channels and it is not scripted.
The fear is if people believe the game’s winner is already decided, people would lose interest. But, this fear as it relates to traditional gambling was probably overstated for a few reasons.
Notice in the opening paragraph how many of the well documented scandals have been in the past or they have dealt with college players. However, the one big difference between collegiate and professional players has been monetary compensation.
Over the past 25 years, the amount of money that the NFL has designated for player’s salaries has ballooned. Compared this to annual salary of $23,000 ($180,000 in today’s dollars) in 1970. The amount of money made by professional athletes today simply makes the idea of match fixing an unnecessary financial pursuit.
Then there is the performance issue. With a 53 active man roster, it is less likely that 1 player will have an impact on the outcome on the score than most other sports. And with all of attention that the NFL garners, it is hard to believe that a player can deliberately affect betting lines without the public noticing.
There’s a common saying that “The house always wins”. There should be another saying that “The house is always watching”. Most casinos keep surveillance tapes for at least 6 months and there is constant scrutiny on any activity that affects betting lines. There’s is also attention on taxes and earnings on highly compensated individuals. Just like there are a lot of watchful eyes on the field there is also watchful eyes in the casinos.
3. Gambling is now everywhere
There was a time where if you want to bet on sports in-person, you needed to go to Las Vegas. But with the 2018 Supreme Court Ruling that got rid of the federal ban of sport betting, some states have started legalizing sport betting. As of this writing, 34 states have instituted some form of sport wagering and at least half of those states have professional sport teams. Bettors can actually place wagers in Capitol One Arena, home of the NBA Washington Wizards and the NHL Washington Capitols.
The real issue pertains to the city, Las Vegas.
When a team goes to certain cities, there are always pitfalls, nightclubs and whatever you want to call it…now you go to a city, there are not really as many distractions
- Michael Malone, Head Coach of the Denver Nuggets (https://www.capecodtimes.com/story/sports/2021/02/02/nba-not-much-home-court-advantage-these-days/4362453001/)
Coach Malone mentioned the above quote after a 2020 game in which his team, the Denver Nuggets, defeated the Miami Heat by 27 points. With COVID restrictions decreasing, the pitfalls of cities with a vibrant nightlife are returning. Las Vegas now joins New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Miami as cities that come to mind with an array of items that could be deemed as distractions. These are primarily a combination of alcohol-serving establishments (casinos, bars, and nightclubs) that are open very late along with sections of the city that may encourage wealthy young individuals to go out. Combined with question decision making, this mix can be a recipe for disaster.
Case Study 1: Henry Ruggs III
Henry Ruggs was an University of Alabama standout and member of the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship who was the first draft selection of Raiders upon the move from Oakland to Las Vegas as the 12th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. He was in his second season in the NFL when on November 2, 2021, he was involved in a car accident. That car accident resulted in the death of Tina Taylor and her dog. It also resulted in injuries to himself and his girlfriend who was in the passenger’s seats. Reports showed that he was drinking in the hours before the accident and was driving at a high rate of speed (prosecuted claimed he was driving as fast as 156 miles per hour) when he hit another vehicle around 3:40 am.
Henry has no prior criminal history, is known to have donated money and raise awareness for Nevada’s food bank and the Roderic D. Scott Foundation which was in memory of his friend who was killed in a car accident in 2016. A Las Vegas Review article confirmed that he received public support from at least two former teammates and current NFL players-which may be surprising considering the potential backlash that they could have face from expressing support.
“You’d never think this guy could hurt a soul, so when you see something like that — I mean, I’m still kind of in disbelief. But, obviously my heart goes out to the family that has been affected by it. But my heart also goes out to Henry as my teammate, ex-teammate.”
- Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins Quarterback
“It’s unfortunate to see a situation like that unfold, and I’ll just kind of leave it at that. It hurts my heart for everybody involved.”
- Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles Quaterback
Case Study 2: Damon Arnette
Damon Arnette was a second-team All Big Ten Conference cornerback for the Ohio State Buckeyes and was selected 9 picks after Henry Ruggs in the 2020 NFL Draft. Damon suffered injuries to both his thumb and groin which was partially responsible for him playing limited minutes in his first 2 seasons in the NFL. Damon was released by the Raiders after a video was shared to the internet showing him pointing a weapon at the camera while threatening to kill the unnamed person who the video was directed at. His release happened on November 8th, just a mere 6 days after Henry Ruggs released.
Damon then received two additional offers by other NFL teams. He was signed to the Miami Dolphins practice squad on December on December 15th for the duration of the 2021 NFL Season. Then, he was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs on a future contract on January 20, 2022 and was released 9 days later when he was arrested for multiple charges including assault with a deadly weapon, carrying a gun without a permit, and possession of marijuana and a controlled substance. This stemmed from an incident according to a report by Sabrina Schur where he is accused of pointing his gun at the valets at Park MGM Hotel in Las Vegas after they refused to give him his vehicle.
Damon had a few prior legal issues including lawsuits in June 2020 where he was accused of attacking a valet employee at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas which was dismissed and an incident in 2020 where Arnette was involved in a hit and run accident near the Las Vegas Raiders’ headquarters.
Case Study 3: Nate Hobbs
Nate Hobbs was a 4-year starter at cornerback for the University of Illinois and was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Nate played in 16 games this season and started in 9 of those games as a rookie. He recorded his first interception against the Washington Football Team (now the Washington Commanders) on December 5th.
On the morning of January 3rd, Nate was arrested for a misdemeanor DUI after he was found asleep at the wheel on a parking lot exit ramp at the Cromwell Hotel in Las Vegas. This was hours after the Raiders defeated the Indianapolis Colts. 6 days later, he played as the Las Vegas Raiders defeated the Los Angeles Chargers to earn the 5th playoff seed in the AFC in a game that will ultimately be remembered as a game where the Raiders went for the win where a tie would have also allowed them to make the playoffs. Nate also played in the Raiders’ playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals who ultimately became the AFC Champions. On January 21st and 6 days after their playoff loss, Nate was cited by the Nevada State police for speeding at a rate of 110 miles per hour.
What does this all mean?
One instance is an anomaly. Two instances is a coincidence. Three instances is a trend. More than that and you have a problem on your hand and that is exactly what the Raiders and the NFL has.
All of these cases span a course of a few months with players, all under the age of 26, that the Raiders had selected with ideas of them being key contributors for years to come. This article is not condemning or excusing blame for any individual players mentioned below but it is highlighting a risk that the NFL and the Raiders should have thought about upon the move. You put young adults with a lot of money into an environment that encourages and profits off of nightlife activity, displays of wealth, fame and drinking. Add to that an attitude of invincibility that some young people have and you have a troubling mix.
From the team standpoint, change needs to start at the top of the organization and building a culture that is aware of its strengths and challenges. There are clear examples from an on the field standpoint. For example, the Buffalo Bills selecting a Quarterback with the arm strength to play in the cold wind in Upper New York (Josh Allen) and New England Patriots selecting cornerbacks who excel in man coverage (J.C. Jackson and Stephen Gilmore).
The Las Vegas Raiders need to select individuals that who understand and can be successful in a city that brings the types of “distractions” that Las Vegas brings. There’s a lot of conversations about appropriateness of interview questions posed at the NFL combine however there is nothing wrong with teams, in particular the Raiders, finding about players propensity for night-life activities and the level of risk-taking.
This change may have already started as the Raiders move on from both Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. One thing that was missing from the controversy surrounding Jon Gruden was if the attention surrounding the insensitive emails took away from potential red flags off the field that team may have shown. With Mike Mayock, culpability also has to be lay at him for the players that he brought in. Criticism that he himself finds warranted based on the following quote about Damon Arnette.
“Obviously, we missed. That is 100 percent on me…We do have to be aware of Vegas…[but] if you want to find trouble, you can find it. And our job is to find kids who can get [by] it.
- Mike Mayock
I agree with the above statement; however, there is the caveat the human nature states that some places and situations will cause trouble from some individuals more than others. This is a lesson for all businesses. Just because you can find a great candidate, doesn’t mean they are a great fit at your location or business. This can be as simple as a teenage couple working at the same movie theatre becoming distracted or a person traveling over a hour to get to your location becoming burnout. The Raiders have to get players who can thrive on and off the field in their environment.
The NFL, besides the concern of one of their franchises, also has other issues to look at it. One of the things that is mentioned about young players, especially those who find themselves in positions shown above, is their feeling of invincibility. The same thing can be argued about the NFL…that they have a sense of invincibility. In some cases it is warranted. The product that has been put out this playoffs has been excellent and the ratings reflect that. Take the Conference Championship games between the Kansas City Chiefs versus the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams which averaged 49.6 million viewers. In fact, NFL games have accounted for 75 of the top 100 most watched broadcasts in 2021. The NFL have been able to face criticism and boycott threats from two sides as it relates to the handling of Colin Kaepernick and the earlier criticism about them speaking out more against domestic violence. It can be argued that the NFL has made strides on their challenges. Even with the concerning lawsuit brought forward by Brian Flores about the hiring process of minority coaches, nobody is writing about the league’s imminent demise. In fact an article by Shalize Manza Young highlights the many recent controversies that NFL have been able to navigate.
The problem that could affect the NFL is long-term. It was too long ago where baseball was considered the national pastime. The long-term potential problem relates both to its future players and fans. The NFL does not want bad publicity about its athletes to affect the popularity of the sport nor do they want to future athletes and their loved ones to prioritize other sports besides football. It’s not only the physical health concerns (e.g. concussions) of athletes; its the mental health aspect as well. A major part of promoting mental health aspect is a workforce environment that roots out bad decision-making. The NFL and its member teams need to make sure they are doing all they can to help and protect their employees. It could be tailored programming, increased scrutiny of its hiring practices, and/or incentives to encourage teams and players to place an emphasis on personal development. In any case, the NFL has to continue to figure out solutions.
Also, the last thing that the Raiders and the NFL need is for a community not to embrace their team due to off the field activities due to the high investment that was placed there. A perfect example is this article on what is happening with the Los Angeles Chargers. The fact that Alvin Kamara was charged with felony battery for an incident that happened a day before the Pro Bowl shows that this issue does not just relate to players who play for the Raiders but for players who are playing in Las Vegas either as an opponent or in a game such as the Pro Bowl or Super Bowl.
The NFL focused on creating an environment that protected the players and coaches against affecting the integrity of the game as it relates to gambling; now they and the Raiders need to ensure they maintain the relationship between the team and its community as well as protect their players; even if it is from themselves.
If you like to read more, please subscribe!