GREEN BAY - Gambling and football have a long history.
Case in point: 1946. The New York Giants played the Chicago Bears in the NFL Championship game. Before the big game, a gambler tried to ensure a Bears win by offering bribes to two players on the Giants.
Packers fans will no doubt remember 1963. That's when the NFL suspended star running back Paul Hornung for betting on NFL games and associating with gamblers. Hornung admitted his mistake and apologized. Lions star Alex Karras was also suspended.
Today, it's not players but the league itself that's associating itself with a form of gambling: Casinos.
"Slowly but surely and carefully, the leagues are letting more gambling have a presence there than they did before," said St. Norbert College economics professor Kevin Quinn. He says the NFL is trying to balance the integrity of the game with a desire to make more money.
It was just three years ago that teams like the Packers started sponsoring state lottery games. In 2010, teams were allowed to run ads for the city of Las Vegas, as long as there were no references to gambling.
And now, new for this season, fans walking through stadiums will see ads for some casinos.
"The one thing leagues are concerned about is the possibility of gambling affecting the play on the field because if a game looks fixed bad news. The lottery is not likely to do that. Slot machines are not likely to do that," Quinn said.
The Oneida Nation is taking advantage of the new NFL rules by entering into an exclusive agreement with the Packers to promote the Oneida Casino.
"Very excited. This is an opportunity where we both get to capitalize. We're both successful entertainment venues," said Louise Cornelius, gaming general manager at Oneida Casino. She says there will be 18 advertising panels at Lambeau Field and a full page ad for the casino in the team program.
There are still some restrictions on casino ads under the new, two-year policy. The ads are only allowed on radio broadcasts, magazines and signs inside the stadium.
"In our situation what this has allowed us to do is work closer with our long term partner the Oneida Nation," said Packers marketing director Craig Benzel. He added that the team won't have any radio ads for now.
The NFL stills bans casino ads during television broadcasts.
"I think it's a little bit of an evolution," Benzel said. "This is our first opportunity to expand some of those opportunities. We'll take a look at it, evaluate it at the end of this year and next year and see if there are maybe opportunities to expand from there."
When asked if it's fair to have restrictions on casino advertising Cornelius replied, "At this point in time, we're just excited about the fact that they've lifted the rules and they're allowing us to consider this."
All of the casino ads must feature a message urging people to gamble responsibly.
Rose Gruber from the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling doesn't expect the new ads to lead to an increase in problem gamblers.
"For most people, they're always going to be social gamblers," Gruber said. "Seeing more advertisements isn't going to do a thing for them. It's not going to make them run out and go gambling more."
The NFL still wants to keep its distance from people betting on games. So casinos that offer sports gambling are still not allowed to advertise with NFL teams. The league also wants the ads targeted at adults.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Benzel if there is any concern from the organization's perspective of having the Packers affiliated with gambling. He replied, "No, I don't believe so, not when you include all of the things that you need to do with targeting the right audience and then also making sure that you are having that responsible gambling message tied to it. No, I think it makes sense."
"Casino gambling, particularly slot machines and table games, has really become far more accepted forms of entertainment than they were even 10 years ago," Quinn said. "I think this liberalization is just reflective of that."
Quinn also says the league is right to make a distinction between regular casinos and those with sports books.
"The leagues are rightly concerned that if there's too much sports gambling that the opportunities for throwing games will get bad. I think they're right to be worried about that," he said. "But, you know, grandma going and dropping a few quarters at the casino and coming up three lemons, I don't think they're as worried about that as they once were."
While the new rules only last for two years, you can bet the NFL will continue taking some form gambling ads well into the future.
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