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Judge Guts Tony Romo’s Fantasy-Football Suit

DALLAS (CN) - A Texas judge tossed several of Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's claims in a lawsuit claiming the National Football League hypocritically and selectively enforced its anti-gambling rules to force Romo to cancel his fantasy football convention last summer.

State District Judge Carl Ginsberg dismissed fraud, tortious interference with a contract and business disparagement claims against the league on Monday.

Romo's company, The Fan Expo LLC, sued the NFL in Dallas County Court in July, claiming the league intimidated other players scheduled to appear at The National Fantasy Football Convention at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas because the league felt the venue violated the league's gambling policy. His company's attorneys have called the NFL "corporate thugs" for making the alleged threats. Fan Expo said it told the NFL that "the event was not taking place at a casino, that no gambling would take place at the event, and that children were allowed and encouraged to attend," but to no avail.

"(J)ust weeks before the inaugural event, the NFL placed a series of intimidating phone calls to players, their families, their agents, and the NFL Players Association ('NFLPA'), threatening that the players would be fined and potentially suspended from the NFL if they participated in the event," the complaint stated.

The NFL flatly disagreed, telling Ginsberg the venue would have "unquestionably" violated the policy and said it informing the players' union and their agents of their participation violating the policy was "justified as a matter of law" that cannot be the basis for Fan Expo's tortious interference claim.

"Putting aside the fact that a private association, such as the NFL, has broad discretion to interpret its own policies and rules, the provisions of the Gambling Policy are clear and plaintiff's own marketing materials, venue contract, and sponsorship agreements admitted that the venue was a casino or gambling-related establishment and plaintiff consistently promoted it as such," the Feb. 8 motion for summary judgment stated.

Fan Expo's remaining estoppel and breach of contract claims will move forward. Romo is not a party to the lawsuit and he was not in court on Monday.

Plaintiff's attorney Michael Hurst, with Gruber Hurst in Dallas, said the NFL's actions were "not just about money, but about control."

"The NFL acts like its players are owned by them," he told reporters after the hearing. "It acts like they are chattel. They are not."

Hurst noted the league went after Romo but has not gone after New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for his Gronk's Party Ship event last week that was held on a cruise ship with a casino. He said league officials pulled their support of Romo's event because they were not involved enough.

"There are numerous other events where this happens where the NFL does nothing," Hurst said. "The problem was the NFL wasn't getting a piece."

Hurst said that if you are any other player, the NFL "will turn a blind eye" to violations of the policy.

"But if you are promoting a large event with a lot of players, the NFL is going to step in and do something," he said.

NFL attorney Thad Behrens, with Haynes Boone in Dallas, told reporters the league is "gratified" with the ruling because it "was a careful analysis that we believe is the correct one."

Behrens disputed claims that the policy is being enforced inconsistently, stating the league is currently investigating Gronkowski's cruise for violations.

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