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Amid gambling violations, NFL players debate betting policy

Stephen Holder, ESPN

Ten NFL players have been suspended for gambling violations since April, and the infractions have revealed a foundational problem: Many players say they aren’t familiar with the league policy, especially the part that prohibits betting from team and league facilities or while on the road with their teams. And some want that policy to change.

ESPN interviewed 53 players, a full NFL roster’s worth, to find out the prevalence of sports betting, whether players fully understand the NFL gambling policy and what aspects they would change. The players were provided anonymity to let them speak candidly, although some chose to speak on the record.

“You’re telling me that if I walk 10 feet from the [facility’s] door it doesn’t matter anymore?” one player said. “I just think that’s kind of dumb. It’s pointless. I don’t see how that’s helping anything.”

Another player added: “Why can’t players bet on other sports that don’t compromise the integrity of the game?”

NFL players are permitted to bet on sports other than the NFL when they’re not at team or league facilities or on the road with their team, but several have been hit with six-game suspensions for betting from the wrong location or at the wrong time. When traveling with their teams, they’re prohibited from betting from the time they leave their home until they return.

“I would like to see that changed,” one player said. “[The suspended players] may have just not understood the rule. That is unfortunate.”

The recent violations prompted the league to reexamine how it educates players and personnel on its gambling policy. Based on a new directive for this season, rookies are now obligated to watch an additional training video from NFL compliance that opens with a message about the “importance of game integrity.” NFL compliance officials have been traveling to team facilities this summer, giving presentations on the gambling policy to players and personnel.

“It comes back to, in large part, a couple of rules that have existed as long as anybody can remember,” said Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy. “Don’t bet on the NFL. That’s not new because sports gambling is more available. That’s always been the case.

“And don’t bet when you’re at work, wherever work happens to be in that moment. That’s existed for a long time.”

It may have existed for a long time, but since the Supreme Court struck down a federal statute in 2018 that restricted sports betting mostly to Nevada, the landscape has been shifting rapidly across leagues. The NFL has found a revenue stream with three official sportsbook partners in Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel. And some players are struggling to keep up.

“The crazy thing is it’s so prevalent in our game,” one player said. “There always has to be refresher courses.”

Players’ thoughts, concerns and complaints about how the gambling policy fits in are below.

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