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Las Vegas Raiders would create an officiating conundrum

When the Raiders move to Las Vegas, the officiating department will have to revamp its policies.



[Editor’s note: On March 27, 2017, the NFL owners approved the Raiders’ move from Oakland to Las Vegas by a 31-1 vote. (Dolphins were the lone dissenters.) This post was originally published Oct. 28, 2016.]

For years the NFL has avoided Las Vegas like the plague. The reputation of Sin City as the gambling capital of the United States plus the hangout of some unsavory characters was enough for the NFL to give Vegas a wide berth.

For the past several years Las Vegas has been trying to clean up its act and become more family friendly. So much so that some sports are starting to warm up to playing games there. The defunct UFL’s only franchise to remain in existence for the entire lifespan of the league was the Las Vegas Locomotives, and the NHL will be the first major league to place a franchise there in 2017.

Then the Oakland Raiders began flirting with the city. And the city flirted back. There’s still a long way to go before we call them the Las Vegas Raiders, but the fact that a NFL owner is even considering a move to Nevada is quite interesting. [Update 1/19/17: The Raiders filed paperwork to initiate a move to Las Vegas. Update 3/27/17: The move has been approved.]

If, and it’s still an if, an NFL franchise moves to Las Vegas, the officiating department will have to revamp its policies.

In author Richard Lister’s book, The Third Team, many current and former officials tell of the very strict rules they must follow to not even have a hint of an association with gambling.  NFL officials are not allowed to step foot into Las Vegas or Atlantic City during the NFL season.  In the offseason the officials must notify the league within 24 hours of having frequented a casino.  Officials are forbidden from betting on all team sports.  Each official is given a list of bars and other establishments in each NFL city where there is known gambling activity, legal or otherwise, and that official is forbidden from patronizing that establishment.  The NFL employs people to monitor those establishments during the season to make sure the officials comply with the rules.

The NFL also subjects its officiating applicants to rigorous background checks.  Not only are an official’s finances laid bare, league investigators comb through an official’s neighborhood asking questions about the person’s habits and behavior.  Investigators frequent off-track betting facilities in the finalist’s home town, show a photo of the officiating applicant, and ask if that applicant frequents the facility.  Investigators even ask neighborhood convenience stores if the candidate buys lottery tickets.

So, how will all this work for the officials if a NFL franchise puts down roots in the sands of Las Vegas? Well, first of all, HR will have to lift the edict and allow officials to set foot in the city during the season. But, I strongly doubt the officials would have a rip-roaring weekend. In fact what happens in Vegas with an officiating crew … could probably be shared with the world.

It is pure speculation, but I would guess the officials would be under strict sequestration during the entire weekend and the officials would be tailed every time they step out of the hotel. The crew’s weekend is so regimented with NFL business, so there is a little down time for the officials.

Right now it is all hypothetical, but if a NFL franchise moves to Las Vegas, the officiating office will need strict policies and protocols to keep the officials above reproach.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"