Thursday, February 11, 2016

Word Sense, or Why America Needs to Talk about Gambling

You have to understand that the reason humans converse and make language is to…well…understand.  Supposedly, as the “smartest animal” we create language as an evolutionary advantage, do allow us to perform tasks and get along with fellow humans better than others in the animal kingdom.

Granted, we have some issues.  We have a shitload of languages and translations don’t always work out smoothly.  Times change, and while “high on grass” meant a bad lie on the fairway years ago, it means something different now.  Sometimes meaning is lost when we utilize sarcasm, and bad means good and “Clear Skies Initiative” means something entirely different.

And then there’s gambling, which the gaming industry pronounces “gaming.”

I’ve felt this way for a long time.  The confusion that sets in when one mentions the G-word is frightening.  I’ve told my own story several times, but in short – my father’s side was a gambling family (horses, mostly), an activity frowned upon by my Mom’s side, who spent hours playing cards and later, bingo.  Playing cards was not gambling (even if a penny a point) because it was “for fun.”  The money was just a way of keeping score.  “So why not just use corn kernels or poker chips?” I innocently asked.

“Because it wouldn’t be as much fun,” was the reply.  No wonder I was confused.

And so is FanDuel’s CFO Matt King.  As is many who play Daily Fantasy Sports.  At least, according to the most recent Frontline PBS news program, which looked into the whole sordid DFS situation this week in “Fantasy Sports Gamble.”  We’ll get to King in a moment, but for now I want to stay on the G-word, something many of the “players” (never identifies as bettors) had trouble saying when discussing their involvement with DFS.  Are we gambling?  No, heavens no.  Investing, yes.  It’s a challenge, a skill-based game.  Entertainment.  Yeah, definitely, entertainment. 

And King echoed those comments, and then some.  After saying that he doesn’t consider FanDuel as gambling, he reiterated users’ comments that, “…what comes through loud and clear is the fact that we are an entertainment product.”  Pressed again about how others might consider DFS as gambling, he offered that any contest where (as Frontline considered) “…if you are putting at risk something of value, you can win or you can lose. That would seem to me (Frontline host) the definition of gambling,” King claimed that the same thing could be said about a Spelling Bee (really, he said that).

After that, he was then asked, “Well, it could be poker. Poker is a game of skill, right?

And he replied:  “No, poker is not.”

Say what?  He explained.  Sort of:

There is a lot of academic research on this, what’s the skill versus luck kind of spectrum. The reality is within poker, every time you shuffle the deck, it creates an element of luck that trumps it basically to being much more a chance-dominated game than a skill-dominated game. If you look at our data, the players that are good, are frankly consistently good. It is truly a game of skill. … Just like football or basketball. The more you practice, the better that you get. Many of the forms of regulated gambling are actively constructed so they are games of chance, and that is a very, very different experience than a game of skill, which is what fantasy clearly is.

Believe it or not, he followed that word salad by going back to the Spelling Bee argument (a combination of skill and luck).  But the reason King embraces all this mumbo-jumbo came a bit earlier in the skill/luck/gambling discussion, when he said…

No, because I think one of the best things about the country that we live in is the fact that everybody can express their own opinions. And so people are certainly going to have a range of opinions, and what we always encourage is to say, look, we’re new, right. So as opposed to necessarily having a discussion about are you this or are you that, are you fish or are you fowl, let’s have a discussion about what are the concerns that the fact that our business exists raises and let’s have a discussion about those concerns. Let’s figure out whether those are legitimate concerns or not, and then if there are legitimate concerns, let’s take proactive steps to address those.

Shorter King: Like assholes, everyone has an opinion, and let’s not concern ourselves with
Let me try to explain about assholes...
what we could be called, because money something something yargle bargle blargh.

See, that’s the real problem here.  Instead of being forward and calling DFS “skill-based gambling,” King hides behind other bon mots (itself a bon mot) and look where that got him.   You, like King, can play along with me by answering these queries:
  • Can you call slots gambling?
  • Can you call blackjack gambling?
  • Can you call poker gambling?
  • Can you call the stock market gambling?
  • Can you call DFS gambling?
  • Can you call a turd a rose?

Now, if you’re trying to decide whether the correct answer is four, or five, or maybe just three, let me assure you THE ANSWER IS ALL SIX.  You can CALL anything anything.  You can CALL a cat a moose or a mouse, but it does not MAKE the cat larger or smaller.  It’s still a pussy, and so is Matt King.

But I digress.  As long as we play parlor games and pussyfoot around with what this word means or that word means, it allows those who wish to divide us and destroy us the tools necessary to do so.  Your game is gambling, but mine is entertainment.  You wager, but I invest.  I use my skills and talents, and you…well, let me get back to you about that, but I’m sure luck is involved, or fate, or chance, some other word that means something.  Because we all have opinions.  And assholes.

I’ve been sitting for quite a while now, and my Matt King itches like crazy.

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