Watching the NFL this weekend, an ad for Draftkings or Fanduel might have flashed across your purview while you were reloading on chips or Rolling Rock. If somehow you missed these ads, you were either watching Redzone (good decision) or suffered through a strong bout of narcolepsy. These ads are as ubiquitous as the Vikings-Bengals-Eagles-Steelers-Cowboys family... and have attracted attention from many different pairs of eyes... and these aren't necessarily admiring glances.
Fantasy sports have gone from just fantasy football, to fantasy basketball/baseball/hockey/soccer, to survivor pools, to reverse survivor pools, to daily fantasy and now even hourly fantasy and who knows what's next... announcer fantasy, or maybe even political fantasy (Pick your lineup of congressmen and see who votes "yay" on this bill to raise the debt ceiling!). But are these truly games of skill, or shrewd ways of getting around the country's supremely restrictive sports gambling laws?
The popularity of sports in this country is inherently tied in with gambling, legal or not. The ease with which any average Joe can place a bet on football is why the NFL is the titan on Mount Olympus standing over every other sport around the world. The tide is turning on legalized sports gambling in this country outside of Vegas and Dover Downs, but not fast enough for Fanduel and Draftkings, who have notable investors from all across the spectrum. They can hand out millions of dollars in prizes weekly to those who show the most nous in picking fantasy players not just for a season, but for a week, with a budget. The NFL is one of the staunchest opponents of sports gambling, and yet complictly allows something one step away from in the gambling gene pool.
Both companies spent nearly $27 million in advertising last week alone, and this doesn't include the numerous teams that both have hooked up with, which totals over half of the NFL's 32 franchises. Fantasy sports are exempted from sports gambling laws, but NJ Rep Frank Pallone doesn't believe these games should. And despite the companies, and leagues, claims that these are games of skill, the odds don't portend that.
Whatever daily fantasy is under the eyes of the law, it is just another branch of the larger argument into legalizing sports gambling in this country. New Jersey has tried legalizing it repeatedly in order to raise funds for its beleaguered casinos and racetracks, and have been thwarted at every attempt. Regulated sports gambling across the country could be a major source of revenue with little cost, including taxes (which are not part of the equation for Daily Fantasy games). How legal these sites and games are could well be an indicator as to how a larger sports gambling debate across all folds will go.
It has taken this country years to move small steps in reforming and regulating casinos and gambling. There are still states in this country that do not have lotteries, let alone casinos, online gambling such as poker and the like and even fewer places have legalized sports betting. It may take years for the red tape and tangled legalities to untwist and unwind, but the larger war is once again being fought with a proxy, and daily fantasy is today's flavor of choice.
At some point, the worm will turn on sports gambling in this country as it has almost everywhere else in the world, especially in the UK. Daily Fantasy is going to be one of the first battlegrounds in a larger, more public debate.
Until then, enjoy being bombarded with a blitz of daily fantasy ads almost everywhere eyes can be drawn to. Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones who could cash out on a Tony Romo fourth quarter comeback.
But, if all else fails, that $2 entry fee could have been spent in way worse places.
For further reading on Daily Fantasy, check out:
The New York Times: Here