While gambling is a huge part of many professional sports, for the NFL (in a roundabout way) it is the driving force of revenue. High ratings yield massive television contracts and, in turn, billions of dollars for owners and players.

Over the years, the NFL league office has dealt with gaming issues, with Art Schlichter the first name that comes to mind. A former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback, he played in the NFL long enough for a large cup of coffee, becoming better known for his compulsive gambling and legal problems, which eventually resulted in jail time.

We all know how it turned out for Pete Rose, too. One of Major League Baseball’s all-time greats will die knowing he will not be voted into the Hall of Fame, and will never manage a club again, because he was officially banned from baseball in 1989 after strong accusations that he had placed bets on numerous games, including those involving his own team. It was not until 2004 that he finally admitted to his involvement in betting on MLB games.

Various professional athletes trip and fall into this pit, or stub their toes along the way. The usual triggers: excessive spending, gambling (betting, wagering), bad investments and surrounding themselves with overzealous family members and questionable people in organized crime, not to mention drug dealers. As was reported late last week, the NFL is in the middle of a long investigation of several players’ involvement in gambling. My first thoughts turned to point-shaving on NFL games, more Spy-gate, or perhaps even Super Bowls thrown. Yet the league’s current focus revolves around a reported investment by at least 25 players in a Dothan, Ala., casino that has been shut down — a business venture that will challenge league rules.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the investigation a day after Yahoo! Sports reported that receivers Terrell Owens, Santonio Holmes, Santana Moss and others had invested some $20 million in Country Crossing casino. NFL rules state that all employees are prohibited from any form of involvement with any gaming operation. Players violating that rule could be subject to fines, suspensions and must sell their percentage of investment. (It is rumored that a few owners in the past have owned a percentage in dog tracks and horse racing, and they, too, were asked to relinquish their shares in said investments.)

Country Crossing owner Ronnie Gilley is also at the center of an investigation that resulted in nine people going to trial, accused of buying and selling votes on pro-gambling legislation. That group includes four former or current state senators.

The country music-themed casino included electronic bingo, restaurants, a concert amphitheater, an RV park and a hotel. Yahoo! Sports said boxer Floyd Mayweather was an early investor who is trying to get his money back. The site reported that the aforementioned NFL players could be punished for their involvement in the Alabama gaming operation.

If there were a current CBA in place, it would ban players from participating in gaming operations, but those rules currently do not apply because of the lockout situation. A source close to the players said that they “have roughly $20 million in the operation.” The bingo project, “Center Stage,” was shut down in February of last year, and the players are trying to reopen it.

“If it were to be determined that an NFL employee had made an investment in violation of league policy on gambling-related activities, that individual would be directed to withdraw the investment and it would be reviewed for potential discipline,” Aiello told Yahoo! Sports.

Another source close to the players said they were investing around $7 million in the project, so if the league shut it down, the players could face financial problems.

Attorney Keith Givens, who is representing Joe Rubins, the financial adviser behind the player investments, said the bingo operation is charitable and therefore not considered gambling under Alabama law.

But Luther Strange, Alabama’s attorney general, stressed that bingo operations needed to be “traditional.” A press release stated that any form of machines, such as slot machines, would be considered gambling, which is illegal in Alabama and why the previous operation was shut down.

League meeting Tuesday

NFL owners are meeting in Chicago on Tuesday, which could be the driving force behind finalizing a proposal for all 32 clubs to vote on so they can move forward and present it to the players at the next meeting. While progress is being made through negotiations, not litigation, there are still miles to travel in this journey; the final mile is not in sight.

I disagree with the reports that the owners have appeared unified. I believe the owners and Roger Goodell have stepped up talks with the players, with urgency starting to mount on both sides. If a CBA is agreed upon by July 15, there will be football, but how much? The longer this lingers, the greater the chance the product (players) will be in danger of suffering considerable injury damage, regardless of the notion of a bigger roster.