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Original Issue

Political Football

AT THE NFL'S annual meeting in March, Giants owner John Mara, whose family is in its 10th decade of league ownership, was careful when discussing the prospect of legalized sports gambling. But he didn't understate the significance of what was on the horizon. "We're having discussions that we've never had before," Mara told me in Orlando.

The NFL has been more reluctant than other pro leagues to embrace what many have long seen coming—even as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the Patriots' Robert Kraft invested heavily in the daily fantasy business. However, over the last year the NFL has begun planning for the business opportunity that is about to land in its lap. "What the league is trying to do in preparation is figure out how to maintain the integrity of the game; that's the most important thing," says Chiefs CEO Clark Hunt.

Here's what the NFL is thinking on three key gambling topics:

In-game prop bets.

Owners believe there's money to be made in allowing spectators in the stands to bet on game situations via apps on their phones. This, they say, would add to the entertainment value of the in-stadium experience in the same way Premier League teams in the U.K. have. At a time when the NFL is having trouble in some markets getting the public off its collective couch and to the stadium, there's the potential for transformative change here.

TV Ratings.

Legalized sports gambling introduces creative ways to make an NFL Sunday more interactive than ever. The idea of sitting at home watching football for 12 straight hours doesn't appeal to younger audiences. But if you could make watching a game more like playing a video game? Maybe more people will tune in.

Integrity.

The most salient point I've heard on this topic is one Mara raised: "Do we want control of the information that's out there?" Indeed, information is powerful currency in the gambling world. Get ready for discussions about whether the NFL should do more to control injury reports and other player and team details to ensure that everything is on the same level. There's a new playing field, and they have to keep that one level too.