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Column: Don't bet against NFL casino ownership

New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick watches the action during the first half of the Patriots' NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4, 2011. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick watches the action during the first half of the Patriots' NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday afternoon, Dec. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
By Tim Dahlberg
AP Sports Columnist / December 4, 2011
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Leaving Las Vegas can't ever be easy for Steve Wynn, especially on an NFL weekend when rubes with fat wallets can't wait to empty them on their favorite team in his casinos.

But there he was in Foxborough, Mass., taking in a Patriots game and discussing what could be a very profitable business venture with New England owner Robert Kraft and a few selected area residents.

Casinos may be the only thing that pays off better than owning an NFL team. So maybe it's only natural that Kraft and Wynn want to team together to build a $1 billion gambling resort just beyond the end zone at Gillette Stadium.

Gambling and football, they just seem to go together. They have ever since Vegas bookies figured out a way to make lines that made NFL games interesting even when they were mismatches.

Much like Sunday, when the Patriots were huge favorites over the woeful and winless Indianapolis Colts. Wynn and everyone else in the stadium knew they would win, but would they manage to cover the 21-point spread that oddsmakers set in the sports books at Wynn's opulent Las Vegas casinos?

They didn't, though even the existence of a point spread would never be mentioned by the NFL. The league is so virulently anti-gambling that it won't even allow Super Bowl commercials that suggest such decadent activity.

But now one of its most prestigious and powerful owners wants to get in on the action. Kraft wants to capitalize on a new state law authorizing three resort casinos in Massachusetts by helping build one in the shadow of the stadium where his Patriots play.

He's not alone. The Miami Dolphins reportedly also are considering a casino on property adjacent to the team's stadium if Florida decides to expand its gambling options.

The fact that league rules technically prohibit casino ownership won't likely matter in this rush for riches. There's too much money at stake, and too many billionaires chasing it for some antiquated policies to stand in their way.

Not to mention an owner who is so chummy with a Vegas casino mogul that he invited him to Foxborough to watch a game and explain to the locals that a huge casino complex is just the thing their town needs.

Anyone sniff a hint of hypocrisy here?

The people who are paid to promote Las Vegas certainly can. They tried to launch their iconic "What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas" campaign by advertising during the 2003 Super Bowl, only to be rejected by the moralists at the NFL. If that wasn't enough, the league banned NBC from promoting its hit show "Las Vegas" on primetime broadcasts after it landed "Sunday Night Football" for fear someone might see a casino.

Only recently did the NFL throw the city a bone and allow Las Vegas to be mentioned in ads during games. But the league still prohibited specific casinos to be identified, and did not allow any references to gambling of any kind.

The NFL has long made it clear it would never allow a team in Las Vegas. Don't be surprised, though, if it allows casinos near its stadiums.

To be sure, Kraft's plan to build a resort that would lure gamblers from the Boston area may never come to fruition. Several hundred Foxborough residents rallied against the proposal Saturday on the town common, and any zoning change to allow the casino would likely have to pass by a two-thirds majority vote.

Still, the very fact that an NFL owner is palling around with one of the biggest casino czars in the world is startling, given the NFL's stance against gambling. At the same time, it's also reflective of how that stance may be loosening, as owners look for ways to boost their profits.

Two years ago the league approved teams cashing in on state lotteries, and the Patriots were among the teams who quickly signed up for a share of that gambling loot. Getting a piece of the casino gambling pie isn't much of a leap from there, and Kraft surely wouldn't have been hosting Wynn at Sunday's game if he didn't think a casino next to his stadium was doable.

Indeed, the NFL's gambling policy is rooted in the misconceptions of another time. While the league plays off fears that its games could be compromised, the truth is that any line movement in Las Vegas is studied so closely that any attempts to fix a game would be discovered there long before it is in the NFL's security offices. Today's casinos, meanwhile, are almost all publicly owned companies that are far more transparent in their workings than the 31 NFL teams that are in private hands.

And, for all the worry about casinos on the NFL's part, Nevada is still the only state in the nation where full sports betting is legal.

Ultimately, the NFL may not even have a say in whether there is a casino in Foxborough. The political landscape in Massachusetts likely will determine that.

The smart guys in Vegas, though, would warn you not to bet against it.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or follow at http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

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