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Gambling With The Truth

We’re officially a quarter-way through the 2015 NFL season. The standards of football season are all here: Sunday bars are full to the brim, the Jaguars are an absolute dumpster fire and Tom Brady is still dismantling his opponents to the point of embarrassment. But there’s a new facet, as well. Even if you’ve only casually watched a game so far, you’ve already been beaten over the head with advertising from FanDuel and DraftKings, one-day “fantasy sites” that allow you to deposit funds into an account, select players for your team and win/lose money based on the outcome. These commercials are wall-to-wall with testimonials from users who claim to have won X dollars (usually followed by 5 or 6 zeros) by playing “fantasy football” on either site.

Sounds familiar right? Yeah, it’s essentially gambling. Gambling dressed up as fantasy football—another staple of the season that typically involves a group of friends. But as opposed to being season long commitments with one entry fee due prior to the draft (in which you compete against the same group of people,) DraftKings and FanDuel have taken the playing model to game-to-game. They’ve taken a 401K and begun day trading.

I will go on record to state that I participate in FanDuel (and lose) every weekend, so I have no axe to grind them. My only qualm is pretending that it’s not gambling.

Scott Van Pelt of ESPN echoed that sentiment recently on SportsCenter (surprising because both sites have spent boatloads of money advertising on the network.)

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at work here, committing money week-in and week-out that is entirely dependent on the outcome of a sporting event. But regardless of the grey area in which these websites exist, their profits reflect a massively growing industry. So much so that in the first week of this NFL season they combined for more cash than traditional Vegas sportsbooks. Despite the slippery slope, FanDuel and DraftKings’ member-bases continue to grow exponentially. But if the prospect of throwing money into a bottomless pit every week won’t dissuade users from participating, what will?

Allegations that they games are rigged.

The New York Times broke a story yesterday that alleges employees from each site are collecting information on the bets and then using that information on the rival’s website. With knowledge such as which players are being picked the most, individuals can greatly increase their odds for winning the biggest prize. The story revolves around a DraftKings employee who utilized his company’s internal data to win on FanDuel—to the tune of $350,000.

Everyone knows The House always wins, but it’s easier to turn a blind eye when you don’t know how. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds, and the impact it will have on these daily fantasy sites. Will regulations be put in place? Will they be outlawed, like online gambling websites? We’ll have to wait and see.

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