PBS aired a FRONTLINE special on Tuesday, in conjunction with the New York Times, in which the television program dove into the world of offshore online sports betting and the seemingly unconnected topic of the rise of the daily fantasy sports industry.
The sports betting segments went pretty much as expected, with no one really willing to talk on the record considering the illegality of sports betting in the United States. If you’re a follower of the daily fantasy sports industry, you likely know how most of the different experts who were interviewed answered the questions posed to them, particularly the industry folks.
While we’ve all grown accustomed to the daily fantasy sports industry sticking to their popular “we’re not gambling” missive, there are still moments where they demonstrate just how disconnected and hypocritical some of their logic can be, and there were several instances of this during the FRONTLINE show.
DFS, completely off the rails?
In one of the more stunning moments during the FRONTLINE episode, FanDuel CFO Matt King (who appeared regularly throughout the hour-long program) asserted that poker is not a game of skill. Because it’s so shocking, I’ve included the full answer King gave below:
FRONTLINE: Well, it could be poker. Poker is a game of skill, right?
FanDuel CFO Matt King: No poker is not.
FRONTLINE: So you don’t think winning at poker involves skill?
FanDuel CFO Matt King: 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.
I highly recommend reading the entire interview King gave to FRONTLINE, as this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Seemingly twisting himself in a pretzel at different moments in the interview, at one point King says DFS is just like basketball or baseball in that the more you practice the better you get. But the same could be said for poker, which King says is not a game of skill. The same could be said for backgammon, which also has an element of chance in the roll of dice.
Not only does this fly in the face of logic, unfortunately for King, all of the empirical data (here, here, here, here, and here) on the subject of poker’s skillfulness says it is a game of skill, as do multiple court rulings in the U.S. (here, here, and here) and around the globe (here, here, and here). And just to hammer this point home, poker has a near-two-century history of being a game of skill, whereas DFS dates back less than a decade.
In fact, one group of researchers concluded poker was nearly as skillful as baseball, a popular sport among DFS players.
It’s likely King and other DFS industry people are simply trying to create a wedge between DFS and poker, as poker is seen as a game of skill AND gambling, as these two elements are not mutually exclusive.
Unfortunately, denigrating poker isn’t going to help DFS in the slightest.
The bigger problem for DFS
When King, or any other DFS industry insider, makes such claims it hurts their credibility (I recommend reading the responses to the tweets I’m about to list).
Many people I’ve spoken to feel the DFS industry is selling snake oil when they make these types of assertions. Or when they compare their contests to spelling bees or bowling leagues or chess. What they conveniently leave out is DFS is like watching a spelling bee or chess tournament and trying to determine who will perform the best, and, this is the important bit — betting on the outcome of other people’s performance, not your own performance.
Furthermore, these same people who feel DFS is selling snake oil, also feel the industry’s talking heads are insulting their intelligence with their condescending and dismissive attitudes, and illogical analogies. Saying poker isn’t a game of skill is just the latest in a long line of irrational assertions made by the DFS industry, but it could very well be the most egregious.