Does The NFL Have A Gambling Problem?

Benjamin White ‘23

In just the first half of 2022, the sports betting industry acclimated a revenue of just over $3 billion, with several notable companies planning to increase their advertising in the final quarter of the year to boost profits [1]. Across the United States, sportsbooks have slowly become legalized, state by state. When the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a 1992 decision to allow states to have the discretion to legalize sports betting, many expected a seismic shift in the incorporation of gambling into everyday life [2]. Paired with the development of electronic gambling, the legalization of sports betting opened up incredible amounts of gambling opportunities. Between Fanduel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, and several others, Americans could now spruce up their entertainment and enjoyment of sports events at the touch of a button. However, the addictive nature of gambling often turns the fun, quick betting of small amounts into compulsive losses of life savings in the blink of an eye. At the head of the sports gambling movement is the National Football League. In the 2022 Super Bowl between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, an estimated $7.6 billion was placed on legal bets [2]. The seemingly excessive amount of advertisements paired with a massive cultural change in the normalization of gambling has resulted in billions of dollars for large corporations such as the NFL, profiting off of gambling addicts across the country, raising a valid question about the ethics of the NFL’s newfound love for gambling.

While being a prominent aspect of the NFL’s modern-day revenue, gambling was historically frowned upon by the NFL. An NFL lawyer was quoted in 2012 as saying that gambling would “negatively impact our long-term relationship with our fans, negatively impact the perception of our sport across the country” [2]. Only a decade later, the NFL earned almost $2 billion in partnership fees for sponsorships, with a large sum of that money attributed to gambling sponsorships [3]. All of a sudden, gambling doesn’t seem so bad for the NFL. The legalization of sportsbooks provided an opportunity too rich for the league to continue to pass on. A large chunk of the NFL’s profits come from advertising, whereas the sportsbooks profit off the bets. Despite the general rise in gambling addiction in recent years and the fact that studies show a direct correlation between exposure to gambling advertisements and gambling addiction, the NFL has largely turned a blind eye towards the unspoken negative effects of gambling [4]. Instead, the association has profited mightily from the influx of advertisements, a wise business decision from a financial perspective. But how have these advertisements been incorporated into national broadcasts?

In the past few years, sportsbook companies have spent upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising [5]. This high cost consists of the number of advertisements and the cost of an individual advertisement, with many companies hiring celebrity promoters. Fanduel has become a part of NBA on TNT broadcasts, being promoted by the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley. DraftKings has Kevin Hart in an ad campaign, BetMGM has Jamie Foxx, and Caesars Sportsbook depicts the football-famous Manning family playing a game of charades among various other commercials. The massive amounts of money spent on advertisements haven’t slowed any profit. The sports betting industry has exploded, recording $57.2 billion in handle, the term referring to the total amount of money placed in bets in 2021 [5]. That being said, the actual amount of gambling advertisements in an NFL broadcast may be lower than expected. On NBC’s broadcast of Sunday Night Football, a marquee matchup between NFC East divisional rivals, the 4-1 Dallas Cowboys and the 5-0 Philadelphia Eagles, gambling comprised an astonishingly low amount of commercials. Of the 128 commercials that occurred during commercial breaks between the start of the game and end, only 4 were advertisements for sportsbooks, 3 of which were Fanduel advertisements. This number makes up only 3.125% of the total commercials. 

Some may argue that regardless of the quantity of commercials promoting sportsbooks, gambling advertisements in an NFL broadcast are inherently inappropriate. Despite being listed as Non-Rated, the broadcasters and the NFL make a deliberate effort to produce a family-friendly viewing experience, with many audience members likely being below the age of 18. In this case, however, a more significant advertising problem would be the inclusion of alcohol commercials, with 7 of the 128 commercials in the Eagles-Cowboys game advertising alcohol products. Still a small portion of advertisements, alcohol serves as another promoted service viewed by minors legally unable to engage in such conduct. If gambling advertisements promoted to audiences that contain minors are inherently wrong, then by product, so would alcohol advertising and promotion of adult media such as a rated R movie or an M-rated video game. Regardless of the moral ambiguity of advertising behaviors and products unsuitable for younger audiences, the financial gain from these advertisements likely prevents any action on the NFL’s part to prevent addictive or unhealthy behaviors. Additionally, the enormous spending on advertisements suggests a significant problem, but many of these advertisements do not occur during an actual NFL game but some other form of football-related media. Rather than debating on the existence of an advertisement problem, the NFL could target solutions to a definite problem in gambling addiction while maintaining its gambling advertisements.

The harsh reality is that sports gambling is definitively here to stay. Many states, such as New Jersey, plan on renewing online gambling policies for the foreseeable future [6]. Company advertisers commit morally questionable campaign decisions by presenting addictive behavior as a can’t-lose situation, such as sportsbooks providing new users with free bets [7]. The neuroscience behind gambling suggests anything but a can’t-lose situation. While sportsbooks may provide free bets, those free bets still provide the user with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes an individual feel excited [7]. Once those free bets run out, sportsbooks are betting on a larger user base getting hooked on the dopamine release, and pouring their own money into their newfound addictive behavior. For every large group of sensible gamblers that bet recreationally with personal limitations on their spending, there are enough addicts that provide sportsbooks with a sizable profit. The NFL may enable this destructive behavior through its sponsorships and broadcasted commercials, but it’s through commercials that the NFL can find a realistic solution. In the same Eagles-Cowboys broadcast, 4 of the 128 commercials were public service announcements, 2 of which encouraged vaccinations for the Coronavirus as well as promoting public safety precautions, one informed viewers of the necessity for cancer screening, and another one advertised Election Day with resources on how American citizens can vote. The NFL will not shoot itself in the foot financially to solve a problem such as gambling addiction that extends well beyond the realm of sports. However, the NFL’s existing use of public service announcements demonstrates the possibility for the NFL to educate viewers of football-related broadcasts about the risks and dangers associated with gambling, as well as services available for those with addiction to receive help.

The NFL’s willingness to profit off of gambling opened Pandora’s Box. An already troublesome problem of addiction was only worsened by the increased availability of gambling, and the massive profits prevent both the NFL and sportsbook companies themselves from turning back. Investment management companies predict the sports gambling industry to become a $37 billion industry by 2025 [8]. The newfound normalization and state-by-state legalization of sports gambling are not going away any time soon. While the NFL and other sports leagues provide fun ways to boost a viewer’s engagement level with the game, such as fantasy sports and point-spreads that can be played for free between friends and family, the dangers of addiction make its advertisements across NFL broadcasts fairly questionable. Policies that address gambling and addiction are controversial subjects that extend far beyond sports. Any action the NFL takes to increase awareness of gambling addiction while maintaining its sponsorships appears to be a win-win solution. While the problems associated with gambling and its advertisements may not be unique to the NFL, that does not absolve the league from having the responsibility to take action that should protect its audience.


[1] revving-up-ad-spending-for-fourth-quarter/?sh=3c37cd2b5dff




[3] almost-2-billion-in-sponsorships.html#:~:text=Agreements%20from%20betting% 20firms%20and,consultancy%20firm%20IEG%20told%20CNBC.




[5] gambling#:~:text=Seeing%20the%20potential%20for%20sky,to%20swallow%20 up%20new%20customers.


[6] gaming-for-another-10-years.html


[7] gambling-ads-00008380