Yesterday, I'd mentioned that New Jersey was denied its rightful sports betting once again by the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Later that day, I spent some time with some friends who were talking about how their teams performed on FanDuel, which prompted me to ask: "why the hell is FanDuel legal when traditional sports betting is not?"
For those who have active social lives and don't need to sit around and gamble and play fantasy sports at the same time, FanDuel is a service that lets you buy into one day or one week fantasy sports leagues with the chance to win real money. As I was writing this, I saw a FanDuel ad on ESPN that hyped the fact that they were giving away $135 million in fantasy football prizes this season. It's real gambling and is real legal. Here's why, according to FanDuel:
Yes, fantasy sports is considered a game of skill and received a specific exemption from the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA 2006). FanDuel uses exactly the same rules as any other season long fantasy sports game, the only difference is that our games last only a day.
Okay, so fantasy sports qualify as games of skill. We'll roll with that, even if it takes a high degree of luck for a quarterback to throw to your wide receiver over the rest at his disposal or for an offensive coordinator to choose to hand off to your running back on the one yard line rather than running a playaction pass that would lead to an easy score. Whatever, let's keep moving here.
So, fantasy sports are considered a game of skill. Great. But doesn't it take skill to accurately predict which teams will win after spotting their opponents, or being spotted, a predetermined number of points? I mean, if that didn't require skill, a success rate of 55% or higher wouldn't be regarded so highly.
Now, this is where the professional sports leagues come in. They have not fought the rise of FanDuel or other one day sports leagues. What they have fought, though, is traditional sports betting. They have all done so under the same guise, that they don't want to compromise loyalty to franchises for fans that would only care about winning bets. Sports on Earth compiled these hilariously identical quotes from American major sports commissioners:
"The new sports gambling scheme that New Jersey proposes would ... greatly increase the likelihood that the allegiance of certain fans will be turned from teams, players and high-level athletic competition, toward an interest first and foremost in winning a bet," wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
"Instead of enjoying the NHL for the skill of our athletes and to root for their team to win the game," parroted NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, "many fans will feel cheated and disappointed when they do not win their bets, regardless of whether their team wins or loses. By making sports gambling a widespread institution tied to the outcomes of NHL games, the very nature of the sport is likely to change for the worse."
"Another likely result of sports gambling is that fan loyalty would diminish," MLB Commissioner Bud Selig asserted in his declaration, "as many fans would focus less on their allegiance to certain teams, players, or cities and instead focus more on the outcomes of individual bets. The inevitable shifting 'loyalties' that would result from sports gambling could forever alter the relationship between teams and their fans."
As NBA Commissioner David Stern wrote, "The NBA cannot be compensated in damages for the harm that sports gambling poses to the fundamental bonds of loyalty and devotion between fans and teams. Once that special relationship has been compromised, the NBA will have been irreparably injured in a manner that cannot adequately be calculated in dollars."
To recap, the commissioners of all four major sports leagues agree that legalizing sports betting would diminish loyalty to each franchise. However, don't fantasy sports do the same exact thing? Don't fans root for random players on random teams instead of just their own favorite team while playing fantasy sports? Don't they put the health and well being of athletes after the success of their fantasy teams? Don't they gamble on fantasy football?
This reasoning by Bettman, Stern, Selig and Goodell is not only incredibly flawed, it's outright bullshit. If you don't believe me, here are a bunch of random people on Twitter who prove my point for me.
Fantasy football is clearly just another form of gambling, one that is treated the exact same way that traditional against the spread betting is treated by players of each. Does fantasy football stop tens of thousands of people from filling stadiums and cheering for their teams? Did Panthers fans boo when Tom Brady didn't get another passing touchdown at the end of Carolina's win over the Patriots? Of course not, because that's ludicrous.
It's abundantly clear that the loyalty associated with gambling has nothing to do with why sports betting isn't legal, otherwise FanDuel and other fantasy football money leagues would not exist.
Chris Christie plans on taking New Jersey's fight for sports betting to the Supreme Court. There is no reason that he shouldn't win but in pro sports, where racist bullies aren't racist bullies and certain kinds of fan loyalty compromising activities are preferred to others, my expectations remain low.