There is a debate raging in the gaming world when it comes to daily fantasy sports over whether DFS is gambling. The technical answer to this question depends on what state you’re in, as some states consider DFS contests gambling, while other states’ laws seem to designate DFS contests as a skill-based game and therefore not gambling.
However, on a visceral level, the vast majority of people would quickly place DFS in the gambling column without a second thought. As MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren stated in an interview with News3LV, “But who in the world thinks that FanDuel or DraftKings — who’s going to tell me that’s not gambling? Of course it’s gambling.”
This opinion extends far beyond Murren and casino executives.
Look no further than the reaction to a recent ESPNW column where the author details his weekly practice of playing real-money DFS with his nine-year-old son. If social media is any guide, even hardcore gamblers and poker players seem to be questioning this decision.
The general reaction to that article is also telling, as it appears to be a clear indication that many people feel DFS is indeed gambling. Had the author said he was playing $1 online chess or backgammon games with his son, I doubt it would raise too many eyebrows.
I don’t want to cast aspersions on the author’s decision to play DFS with his son (that’s an activity other people can engage in), considering I’ve taught my boys the rudimentary rules of draw poker, although we play for chips, not money.
That being said, I do have some serious misgivings about the article.
The big problem the article creates
So, let’s ignore the moral and ethical objections people have to children and gambling.
Let’s also forget the fact the author is breaking the terms and conditions of whatever DFS site he is using, as all DFS sites require a person to be at least 18 years of age, and in some places older. If DFS were regulated, such as online poker is in New Jersey, this father could be brought up on charges for allowing his son to participate in these contests.
The real problem many DFS players and legal gambling advocates like myself have with the column is that the anti-online gambling crowd could leverage this story and use it to further their agenda. It has turned the possible (underage children will be able to gamble online) into a reality, and at the same time the article probably caused some consternation for executives at DFS sites FanDuel and DraftKings.
Is DFS gambling?
For instance, lines such as, “But when he got his first taste of daily fantasy sports this spring during the NBA playoffs, he was hooked…” seem to be taken right out of a Gamblers Anonymous speech. (In fact, GA may add fantasy sports to its book.)
In addition to setting the legalization discussion back, this is the kind of image DFS companies don’t want people to conjure in their minds when they think of daily fantasy sports. Yet here is ESPNW, essentially promoting the idea of a father and a son wagering money on DFS contests together, and looking at it as the new “playing catch.”
The image of a child “hooked” on fantasy sports, anxiously watching football on a Sunday and fretting over his fantasy lineup should be troubling to anyone, whether or not they are pro- or anti-gambling. This article is quite literally the outlier scenario that Newsweek created in their anti-online gaming piece last year, complete with the image of a nine-year-old boy gambling online, only instead of poker, it’s DFS. And to top it all off, we have a parent encouraging this behavior.
Furthermore, the author’s justification for teaching his son how to play DFS has nothing to do with the “DFS isn’t really gambling” debate. At one point in the column, the author describes how he internally weighed the perceived positive aspects of playing DFS with his son and the potential negative aspects of teaching his child how to wager money on sports, as he wondered: “What if I am planting the seed for a future gambling problem as an adult?”
When someone willing to teach their nine-year-old the ins and outs of selecting a DFS lineup can’t avoid drawing parallels between DFS and traditional gambling, it’s time to reevaluate how we categorize DFS.
The creation of such a vivid image, a child playing daily fantasy sports for money, could do a whole lot of harm to DFS’ efforts to avoid the gambling designation. It could also have far-reaching effects on online gambling in general, particularly if the anti-online gambling crowd starts lumping DFS in with other forms of online gambling.