Own a TV, smartphone, tablet, or computer? You’ve no doubt been a victim of the media blitz daily fantasy sites have included as part of their advertising onslaught this fall. Surely even a casual news observer has seen a story about increased governmental scrutiny of FanDuel & DraftKings pop up in their Facebook news feed. They’ve made it to this point by exploiting a specially carved out loophole in anti-gambling legislation targeting online poker. I don’t have a dog in the fight because I don’t play daily fantasy sports, but the question I can’t help but ask is “Why is this an issue? Who cares?”
America has a long history of attempting to legislate Judeo-Christian morality, with its first anti-gambling statutes being enacted as early as 1630 with the Massachusetts Bay Colony making the possession of dice and playing cards illegal. We’ve come a long way since then, in attitudes about drinking, smoking, sexuality as well as gambling. Despite the failure of America’s doomed prohibition laws, we still have a large number of “blue laws” on the books to prevent its sale in certain areas and on certain days and times. One of America’s most beloved travel destinations has become Las Vegas, one of the specialized areas we’ve allowed gambling to be appropriate.
A large part of the daily fantasy operators’ argument lies in the legal distinction of fantasy sports to be a game of skill instead of a game of chance. This in spite of internal documents that describe their game in rhetoric that is typically reserved for gambling such as “bets,” and “stakes,” and “odds.” You put some money into the pot in the hopes that your picks result in you winning and thus taking money the non-winners put in to play. This is clearly gambling by any possible definition of the word. The loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was for games in the same spirit as March Madness pools, home card games, and friendly year-long fantasy leagues, not multi-billion dollar corporate gambling rackets.
The truth is that similar to poker, both games are a combination of skill and chance. The top daily fantasy players use complex algorithms, statistical models, and spreadsheets to gain advantages but still fall victim to the chance performances of the players they choose. While there is some of poker left to chance, there is definitely skill involved through knowledge of the game and ability to both bluff and call bluffs. Why is it that the top players around the world consistently meet at final tables? Poker pro Andy Frankenberger would tell you "Anyone who thinks poker is not a game of skill probably hasn't played much poker."
There is a clear and unquestionable demand for these types of gaming. Both FanDuel and Draftkings are of estimated worth exceeding a BILLION dollars, with a B. They had a combined 41 million players last year prior to the advertising blitz of this fall and are expected to take in more than $4 billion in entry fees this year alone. Additionally, they have widespread support and investment from every single major sports league in the country. They’ve also got multi-million dollar integration deals with all of the major sports broadcast channels and a number of individual teams.
It’s time to call it like it is. Daily fantasy sports IS gambling in much the same way that online poker IS gambling. There is an overwhelming amount of support and potentially taxable revenue in both realms of online entertainment. With the support of both citizens and corporate interests, the time has come to give up the faux-morality of anti-gambling legislation. With the amount of things politicians are telling us America can’t afford to fund, we should undoubtedly legalize and regulate the massively popular online gaming industry so we can reap the benefits of the tax income. I want to be able to play poker again!