Robert Krafts sits on the board of a private-equity firm that owns shares in Caesars Entertainment. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports
NFL reporter Bart Hubbuch, who was fired from the New York Post last year for comparing Donald Trump’s inauguration to September 11 and Pearl Harbor, wrote what appears to be a bombshell story about Robert Kraft brazenly defying NFL rules. The headline, “This is the story about Robert Kraft’s casino holdings that Rupert Murdoch’s paper never ran,” implies a mass cover-up between two Trump-loving billionaires to hide the Patriots owner’s unsavory business dealings. In other words, it’s the equivalent of crack cocaine to Deadspin’s left-leaning and Patriots-hating audience.
Except, the content of the article doesn’t live up to the grandiose headline. It might be one of the most boring hit pieces ever written.
Here’s the crux of the story: Since 2014, Kraft has sat on the board of directors for the Manhattan private-equity giant Apollo Global Management. At the time of Kraft’s arrival, Apollo owned a 60 percent stake in Caesars Entertainment, which operates 50 casinos and horse-racing tracks around the globe. Due to bankruptcy proceedings, Apollo now only retains a 16 percent share in the entertainment conglomerate.
According to NFL policy, league personnel can’t “serve as an officer or director” of a company that generates revenue from “gambling-related” operations. Since Apollo is financially tied to Caesars, and Kraft sits on the firm’s board, he appears to be in violation of the rule. But yet, commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t doing anything about it.
To further prove his point about how Kraft is getting away with this supposedly egregious act, Hubbuch points to the persecuted Tim Rooney, the son of Steelers founder Art J. Rooney. In 2008, the NFL forced Tim Rooney to sell his entire stake in the team, because one of the companies he owned, Yonkers Raceway, received a gambling license.
Of course, there’s a difference between heading a company that obtains a gambling license and sitting on the board of a private-equity firm that owns a 16 percent stake in a corporation that operates casinos. In a statement provided to Deadspin, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Kraft isn’t overstepping his bounds, because Apollo is a “diverse company” with assets of nearly $200 billion.
By the letter of the law, it seems as if Kraft is breaking the rules. NFL guidelines make no differentiation between companies with a lot of assets and businesses with few. But it’s not shocking an entrepreneur with an estimated $5.1 billion net worth is helping to manage a firm that controls a small share of another company that operates casinos. It would be nice to know if other NFL owners help direct private-equity firms that have some of their money invested in casino companies. Given the casino gaming market generates more than $70 billion in annual revenue, they probably do. But Hubbuch makes no mention of conducting the additional research.
This appears to be a minor violation, especially considering Kraft and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones are investors in DraftKings, the daily fantasy sports website. Goodell says daily fantasy isn’t gambling, a dubious claim that many attorneys general, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman, disagree with. The NFL’s corporate headquarters are located in Manhattan.
With the Raiders relocating to Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the United States, it’s impossible to take Goodell’s anti-betting stance at face value. At the owners’ meetings last month, he called Vegas an “entertainment mecca,” saying it’s not the same city it was 10 years ago. But at last check, all of the casinos on the strip still remain in operation, so it’s difficult to understand what Goodell means.
If anything, Hubbuch uncovered the NFL has a hypocritical stance towards gambling and billionaires have their money invested in private-equity firms that hold an array of assets. Stating the obvious doesn’t qualify as a groundbreaking scoop.
The most interesting part of the tale comes later, when Hubbuch insinuates Kraft called Murdoch to spike the story. Hubbuch says he was ready to run the piece in August 2015 after receiving an uncharacteristically quick response from Patriots PR honcho Stacey James. But then, shortly after getting off the phone with James, he says he received a phone call from his editor ordering him to stop pursuing the story. Hubbuch alleges he was told Murdoch didn’t want to publish the article. Kraft and the 21st Century FOX CEO are longtime pals, with Murdoch regularly appearing in the Patriots owners’ box.
The Patriots told Deadspin the notion that Kraft ordered the story to be pulled is “categorically false.” In an email to WEEI.com, the New York Post declined comment on the matter.
Given Hubbuch’s unceremonious ousting from the Post –– he writes it was a “relief” to get fired in the kicker of the Deadspin story –– it’s apparent he holds a grudge against the tabloid. Without confirmation from the Post or another source, Hubbuch’s accusations could be chalked up as little more than a disgruntled ex-employee trying to extract his revenge.
Of course, it’s possible that Kraft would phone Murdoch and ask for a story to be pulled. But if Murdoch listened, that’s more of a negative commentary on him as a newspaperman. If anybody acted nefariously in this situation, it appears to be the Post. Exposing the NFL’s hypocrisy on gambling or Kraft’s wide array of investments is nothing new.