Turn on your TV right now, and before you can count to 10, you probably will see a daily fantasy sports commercial. Fantasy sports is swallowing America, one daily draft at a time. Your Aunt Bess can do it — it’s fun and, well, you can even play for free!
DraftKings was TV’s single biggest advertiser the opening week of the NFL season. And, according to Bloomberg News, the DraftKings and FanDuel fantasy sites generated $60 million in entry fees for the NFL’s Week 1, twice the amount of money Las Vegas sports books handled.
Here are your U.S. tax dollars at work: In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which effectively prohibited online poker and sports betting but provided an exemption for fantasy sports.
Why would fantasy sports be exempted? Because it was deemed a “game of skill.” Poker and sports betting are considered games of chance. In other words, legislators are telling us — with a hilarious straight face — that when you play poker or bet sports, you are gambling, but when you play fantasy sports, you are not gambling.
Let me address this briefly, before addressing this not-as-briefly:
1. Fantasy sports is sports betting.
2. Daily fantasy, in fact, is sports betting on steroids.
(Sports betting is gambling but fantasy sports is not? That’s like saying an apple is a fruit but an avocado is not. Or that Narcissus was an egomaniacal narcissist but Donald Trump is not.)
One of DraftKings’ marketing slogans is, “Pick your sport. Pick your players. Pick up your cash.”
Now, how exactly do you “pick up your cash”?
By risking your money against other people’s money — in my neighborhood, we call this GAMBLING — and then taking the other people’s money when you beat them, minus the house rake.
The last time I looked, poker and betting against the point spread work in a similar fashion.
That brings us to our major professional sports leagues — the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — which have a history of keeping gambling at a very long arm’s length but now have opened their arms and wallets to the brave new world of it’s-not-gambling fantasy sports!
Hey, Roger Goodell doesn’t wear a $1,200 suit for nothing.
Let’s take a gander at our platinum-plated, judicially challenged friends at the NFL.
The league has opposed New Jersey’s efforts to legalize sports betting but plays annually in London at Wembley Stadium, where fans can make sports bets on site.
The league prevented the Cowboys’ Tony Romo from participating in a fantasy sports convention because it was held in a Las Vegas casino but runs its own fantasy Web site at nfl.com/fantasy.
The league did not allow the Broncos’ Von Miller and Brandon Marshall to attend a fantasy sports event in Las Vegas, but 16 NFL teams have sponsorships with FanDuel and 12 teams have deals with DraftKings.
The league forced three Dolphins to drop out of a celebrity poker event because it violated NFL rules against promoting casino activities, but the Saints hold training camp at a West Virginia resort that has a casino.
Somehow, the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski each has a sponsorship deal with a fantasy sports site.
(Actually, best I can tell, Brady can do whatever he wants to do. Except at home, perhaps.)
Meanwhile, several NFL stadiums have opened in-game fantasy sports zones to allow fans to follow their fantasy money. The Lions just built a club-level lounge sponsored by MGM Grand Detroit casino. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the Kraft Group — that would be blueblood, integrity-is-my-middle-name Patriots patriarch Robert Kraft — have stakes in DraftKings.
Daily fantasy is now a nonstop-calendar bet fest in which you can enter multiple daily fantasy contests — you draft a bunch of players and hope they outperform the other contestants’ players — with the hope of a payoff every 24 hours or so. It sure is entertaining, until you can’t afford the entertainment anymore.
Anyway, whatever you want to call it, it appears to Couch Slouch that, by the end of the 21st century, almost the entire U.S. economy will be consumed by daily fantasy sports.
You can bet on it.
Q. I heard you on a podcast — it seemed like you were both promoting poker (supporting its legalization online) and casting a wary eye on poker. Which is it? (Nelson Scott; Phoenix)
A. I’ve always had a conflicted viewpoint on gambling. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that people should be allowed to do as they please, which includes risking your dollars betting on a game or the turn of a card. I also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that most folks will lose, and some of them will become so addicted to the action, it can destroy their entire bankroll, family and life.
Q. Will Pope Francis be taking in any Saints games while he is in the United States? (Roger Strauss; Silver Spring, Md.)
A. Pay the parishioner, Shirley.
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