If you’ve never heard of FanDuel or DraftKings, then congratulations on having lived in a Tibetan monastery for the past few years. That seems like the only way you could potentially avoid their advertisements. Together these two companies form a corporate behemoth, essentially the Coke and Pepsi of their respective field, and they’ve been dominating the arena of Daily Fantasy Sports, or DFS.
DFS is a form of Fantasy Sports in which you buy individual players for individual games instead of for an entire season. Much like a casino, this creates the perception that there are constantly chances to win. Also like a casino, DFS advertises huge life-changing sums of money as prizes for a handful of lucky winners.
Unlike a casino, however, you can take DFS on the go. The apps for FanDuel and DraftKings are among the most popular in Apple’s app store. This is a casino game that everyone with a smart phone already has in their pocket. What could possibly go wrong?
On its face, DFS seems so innocent—it’s just fantasy football after all. It’s something I’ve participated in since the seventh grade. But these companies have basically co-opted what was once an entertaining hobby to participate in with family and friends and have turned it into a cut-throat, stunningly legal way to gamble on sports.
Senior Matt Hayden started playing Daily Fantasy Football games on DraftKings a few weeks ago after seeing ads on TV. “I deposited five dollars to start with and am down to 20 cents,” he said with a laugh. “The thing most people don’t realize about these sites is that most of the entries are made by professional gamblers, not just regular sports fans like you and me.”
The word “gamble” is the point of contention. The way it currently stands, DFS games don’t actually count as gambling. Instead, both the creators of DFS and those who have a large financial stake in the industry (an illustrious who’s-who of the sports industry including the MLB, NHL and MLS, along with major broadcasters FOX and NBC Sports) have slyly lobbied to have DFS games labeled as games of skill, and not of chance. Such a label exempts virtually all DFS formats from nearly all gambling regulation, similar to Las Vegas in the 1950s.
The claim that fantasy sports are games of skill is not outwardly ridiculous. As someone who has played fantasy football for the better part of a decade, I know full-well that a lot of research and analysis goes into drafting players, scrutinizing match ups and scouting potential trades to the point where it feels humorously scientific.
I can spend 10 hours on Saturday examining every aspect of every player on my roster, but come Sunday there’s still a very good chance that I lose to my 12-year-old cousin who thinks J.J. Watt is a country music artist. Truly, what is the difference between what I just described and an app that allows me to bet on a team to cover the point spread or an app that allows me to bet an over/under of a game? Both apps are would be illegal under current gambling regulations. I’d argue that roughly same, if not more research and evaluation go into those “games of chance” than go into any fantasy sports contest.
“They (DFS) should be much more regulated,” said Hayden. “These are without a doubt gambling sites, and as with any form of gambling, the advantage is always going to be toward the house. And if there’s no regulation, then there’s no way to know if you’re being cheated.”
Hayden is referencing to a recent incident where an employee of FanDuel won $350,000 on rival site DraftKings using information that had not yet been released to the public. You can call this an isolated incident, and statistically that’s what it is so far, but at what point do we stop allowing these companies to dangerously mischaracterize their product for the sake of avoiding common sense gambling regulation?
There’s a reason we don’t allow casino’s to police themselves—we all know that deep down their only interest isn’t fair gaming, but the bottom dollar. Why do we think of these DFS providers any differently?
Don’t be fooled by the colloquial nature of fantasy sports. This is gambling, plain and simple. The only difference is that a 14-year-old can’t walk into a casino and blow $200 dollars on blackjack, but he can pick up an iPhone and bet $200 dollars that Tom Brady throws for 4 touchdowns and 300 yards on Sunday.