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POULSEN: Governments want to squash fantasy sports games

Image Credit: Chuck Poulsen
December 03, 2015 - 8:15 AM

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association reported in September that 56.8 million people in the U.S. and Canada have played online fantasy sports this year.

Look at it this way: As you walk through the mall this Christmas season, pick out six people. One of them is playing Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS).

That's three times as many people who will shop at WalMart stores on that day.

Naturally, governments are hot and bothered about being on the sidelines with all this money in play.

A dozen U.S. states are trying to make privately-owned DFS illegal, which, if successful, would essentially have the same affect on Canadian hockey, baseball and soccer bettors who are in the game.

The two big DFS sites are DraftKings and FanDuel.

At its simplest, bettors choose the players they like for any given game and put them on their team. The results of their bets are determined by how those players perform, statistically speaking.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, whose league is in partnership with DraftKings, argues that the legal defence of fantasy games is that they are games of skill.

If it was a game of just chance, it would be "gambling," and thus illegal under U.S. federal law. (The various puns on Bettman's name are just too easy to do).

Bettman's comments two weeks ago came a day after the latest state, New York, went to court to shut down DFS sites.

Last week, DFS sites counter-sued in New York at the same time Florida went to court after all the major sports leagues, which collect tens of millions in ad revenue from DraftKings and FanDuel.

It's a sure bet that lawyers won't lose in this game.

Does this game have an element of skill?

The bettor studies the stats and apparent worth of all the players he/she might select. There is a limit on how many of the top players can be selected so a winning team might depend on how the bettor views the potential of second string players.

This can take research, analysis and thought.

Skill-wise, how does that compare to picking a government scratch ticket with the numbers already printed on them? How does it compare with the skill required for choosing your kids' birth dates when buying a 6/49 ticket?

Can the politicians get more hypocritical than that?

Yes, they can.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman told the court that DFS has adverse effects "for populations prone to gambling addiction and individuals who are unprepared to sustain losses, lured by the promise of easy money."

I've only read that quote and couldn't see if the government's Schneiderman said it with a straight face.

This hasn't hit Canadian courts yet but consider that Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Quebec each now take in more in gambling revenues than Nevada. That's a surprising stat, but there it is.

Toronto gaming law lawyer Chad Finkelstein said the success of DFS shows that consumers want new and different ways to gamble on sports.

"The horse has left the barn," he said. "It's happening anyway, and it's happening in ways the Canadian government isn't overseeing or controlling or getting any revenue from."

Even if the U.S. court actions were successful, DFS sites would probably just move to the Caribbean, where gambling sites continue to go untouched by North American authorities.

According to the Canadian Gaming Association, Canadians spend $4 billion a year in these off-shore gaming sites, which offer better odds and almost double the payouts of the sucker-bet games run by provincial governments.

Politicians have had no success in controlling the Internet.

There's no reason to like their chances this time.

* I've lost my last four football bets. I blame climate change.

— Chuck Poulsen can be reached at

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
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