Monday, November 16, 2015

Skill Be a Lady Tonight Just Doesn't Have the Same Zip to It

The Hon. Charles Baker, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, stated last week that daily fantasy sports websites DraftKings and FanDuel aren't gambling, they're "games of skill." Baker said he learned this by playing one free game on DraftKings.

For once, I'm hoping a politician IS trying to play the voters for suckers. If Baker actually believes that, then HE's the sucker. Those who live by the gambling dollar regard those who think the odds through brain power as their very best and most profitable customers.

Baker isn't a sucker, he's a sharp guy. Like most pols uttering nonsense, he wasn't lying per se, but offering a ritual statement not meant to be believed by a soul for a second. As all governors must, he was just supporting local industry, that is, Boston-based DraftKings, come what may. To show the bipartisan nature of that sentiment, Martha Coakley, the Democrat defeated to be elected Governor last November, is on the DraftKings payroll as a legal adviser.

(BTW, for an instructive lesson in how moral attitudes towardsDraftKings has many legal advisers and is hiring big-name law firms the way its suckers, sorry, players, load up on Rob Gronkowski every week. They are responding as Baker was to the announcement by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman that daily fantasy is too gambling, and as such, illegal in the Empire State. If other large states were to follow suit, all those daily fantasy ads would be off TV, and DraftKings would be yet another spectacular Internet-based business bust. This would in turn cost its investors serious dough and cause much agita among its marketing partners, such as your New England Patriots.

I have no stake in daily fantasy, so I don't have to insult anyone's intelligence. Of course daily fantasy is gambling. The federal law loophole that lets it operate says because it's "based on the assessment of the skills of the participants." Uh-huh. And why exactly is risking money on the proposition Tom Brady is gonna have a good game skill and risking money that the whole Pats team will cover the spread just a matter of chance?

ESPN was showing the final table of the World Series of Poker last night. The talents of the players at that table in disciplines ranging from mathematics to psychology are unbelievable. Compared to top level hold-'em as a game of skill, fantasy football is Candyland.  And yet nobody, least of all the poker players themselves, would say they weren't gambling.

I don't care that daily fantasy is gambling. Society's hypocrisy about its vices doesn't much bother me, either. I'm used to it. My objection to daily fantasy is on simpler moral grounds. It's a bad bet, a bet so bad as to constitute a ripoff. Players who use DraftKings and FanDuel are competing against huge numbers of fellow players. They are all handicapping a horse race with about 250 entries, the skill position players of 32 NFL teams (28 or 30 on bye weeks). The odds stink, and the only way to lower them is to use Wall Street tactics, making hundreds of entries based on computer algorithms determining who all the other bettors are picking for their teams.

That is how at least one employee of one of the two companies made big money playing on his competitor. The uncanny resemblance that bears to insider trading is what began official scrutiny of daily fantasy. Well, that and the national horror at all those damn ads.

So daily fantasy is a mug's game. Why, the only worse bet you can make is buying a lottery ticket, a form of gambling legal everywhere and heavily advertised by every state that runs one, including New York. Governments everywhere have succumbed to the reality that while voters don't see a tax increase to fix the crumbling bridge on their road to work as a sound investment, they'll happily squander the same sums on a below infinitesimal chance to get rich quick.

That in fact is what I think will be the future of daily fantasy. It won't be outlawed in New York or anywhere else. It will become a quasi-governmental operation, with the states letting sites operate in return for a healthy slice of the daily handle. The public sector has learned that the self-righteous satisfaction of outlawing "vice" pales in comparison to a new revenue stream.

This will all be presented as a means of protecting civic morals while protecting the interests of the little guy, the nickel and dime daily fantasy patsy. The odds of the game will not change in the slightest.

Pols treat voters as suckers for the same reason the house treats gamblers the same way. It's a majority of their customer bases.


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