PHOENIX — The connection between gambling and professional football has been a long one, and it continues to get more and more intertwined, with the latest change approved by NFL owners coming at the ironic expense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The NFL owners approved a rule change on Tuesday to permit the opening of sportsbooks in NFL stadiums on game days for the first time. The proposal was put forwarded to ownership after the Washington Commanders made plans to open a sportsbook at FedEx Field in January.
The Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants and Jets have sportsbooks on the grounds of their stadiums, but not inside the ticketed area. Fans have been allowed to gamble on their phones in jurisdictions where gambling is legal.
The rule also designates a significant portion of the revenue from such sportsbooks as local revenue, and thus exempt from being shared between clubs. The first $20 million in revenue from each local sportsbook will not be shared.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not expected to add a sportsbook to Acrisure Stadium, because even though gambling on sports is legal in Pennsylvania, sportsbooks at sporting venues are not.
“Currently in Pennsylvania, we wouldn’t be able to do that,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said on Tuesday. “So, that’s only something that’ll be a factor in the states that allow it.”
Rooney said that if the state changed the law, the Steelers would look into such an arrangement, but does not anticipate that happening.
“I mean, we would look at it,” he said. “But I don’t anticipate that being something that’s on the near-term horizon.”
The measure is the latest in the NFL’s sudden reversal of decades of anti-gambling stances. A 2018 Supreme Court ruling threw open the doors to individual states legalizing sports betting. Gambling on sports has been legalized in some fashion in 33 states and Washington, D.C.
But the specific rules vary from state to state, meaning the Steelers will be somewhat disadvantaged by this rule change, losing out on a potential $20 million in annual local revenue.
That’s probably a hard pill to swallow for the Rooney family, which has a long history in horse racing. Those ventures include slot machines and other non-horse racing forms of gambling caused Tim and Pat Rooney, the uncles of current president Art Rooney II, to sell their shares of the team in 2009.
Now, instead of individuals connected with gambling being barred from participation in team ownership, teams will be able to run casinos right out of their stadium. Art Rooney II seems to be taking the changes in stride.
“It wasn’t our idea to legalize it,” he said. “We opposed it for many years, but it’s here. We’re doing our best to keep up with it.”