Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DFS Needs a History Lesson

First, let me say that I give few rat’s asses about Fantasy Sports.  Most likely it’s my age showing, but I don’t get the thrill.  No matter, I’ve been all over the recent kerfuffle that DraftKings/FanDuel and the whole DFS industry has been going through the last couple of weeks, and I would offer to them some advice in the form of a history lesson, and that lesson would be in the form of “those who can’t remember history are doomed…etc.”

So travel in time with me to a period of, oh, let’s set our way-back watches for a decade ago.  Here’s a new online industry that’s sweeping the country.  Extremely popular and, although there are several players involved, there are two mega-stars who get the lion’s share of the business.  It’s gambling, of course, but it’s a skill-based game, and folks can’t seem to get enough.  There’s advertising galore and folks seem to enjoying the access and the industry, despite the lack of regulation, is growing by leaps and bounds.

But there are signs of trouble…some players have complained that the playing field isn’t level.  Sure, there are “sharks” and “fish,” but some games seemed rigged.  The industry hasn’t escaped the notice of legislators…some want to ban it, others want to “get their fair share” (as they do with horse racing and lotteries).  It seems as if the industry got too big too fast, and then, just when no one expected it…


Now I am not going to argue whether UIGEA and the eventual fallout on the online poker industry was right and fair (hint: no way, José).  I do want to point out that the history lesson is clear – we have a lot of mentally deficient elected officials who can pass legislation at a whim and ruin entire industries with the flick of the President’s pen.

Get my drift here?  The parallels of DFS and online poker are frightfully similar, and we are just now starting to see DFS go through the gauntlet that poker went through ten years ago. 

The outcome?  Well, that’s where I see a different vision.  That’s because there are THREE major differences between DFS and online poker.

  1. The history of online poker.  Seems obvious, but the fact that we’ve been down this road before means the potential for someone to sneak in a bill outlawing DFS is very small indeed (despite the fact that the “father of UIGEA” now says the DFS runs on “chutzpah” to operate under that bill’s carveout).
  2. Partners.  DFS is being fueled by some heavy hitters.  Major funding for DFS comes from venture capitalists, sports networks like ESPN and Fox Sports, and many of the major leagues themselves.  Poker never had that.
  3. Sheldon Adelson.  The less we talk about this blight of near-human garbage the better, but he’ll be part of the debate whether we like it or not (Hint: we don’t).

In my opinion, the idea of Daily Fantasy Sports is akin to poker in the fact that both are “skill-based” games that involve money being pro-offered in exchange for prizes (which usually are also monetary).  I am hopeful that DFS is finally seen for what it really is – online gambling – and as it goes, so goes online poker.

Obviously, although I never play DFS, I hope it lives on and prospers.  And ergo, online poker, too.  And I think it will, eventually.  Here’s why:

  1. History.  This time the “legality” of DFS will HAVE to be debated in the open in the federal and state halls of government.  What is it, how does it work, and, most importantly, “can we get a piece of the action?”  Remember, the major carveouts of UIGEA were forms of gambling ALREADY approved by states (and heavily taxed…I mean, regulated).
  2. Partners.  The NFL, MLB, NHL, Major League Soccer, and all the rest will not go gentle into that good night.  People want to bet on sports, and sadly, this country isn’t quite ready to join the rest of the world and allow its citizens to put down a fiver on the local franchise’s upcoming match.  DFS allows “sports fans” to get more involved with the action AND make a bet and everyone wins, kind of.
  3. Sheldon Adelson.  I admit he’s the wildcard in all of this.  His RAWA bill made no mention of DFS, yet it did initially target the online lotteries.  It’s going nowhere in its current state, but the rumors of RAWA-lite and it’s “moratorium” could also mean that DFS could get nixed at both the state and federal level.  The “study” part of RAWA-lite might be helpful to our cause IF it was done in a fair and balanced process.  Do I think it would be?  Two words:  Jason Chaffetz (he of the unbalanced witness list and misleading charts).  Do not make me laugh.

During the next few weeks and months, we slog through more Presidential primaries and search for a Speaker of the House and vote in November 3 elections.  DFS’s fate might not be decided in that short of time, but eventually something’s gonna happen.  And eventually that SOB Adelson is gonna weigh in.

So be diligent, people.  Be diligent.

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