Daily Fantasy Sports: Is it Gambling?

One cannot seemingly turn on the television without seeing an advertisement for DraftKings, Fan Duel, or one of the many other daily fantasy sports site proliferating the Internet. While the popularity of these games goes without saying and increases by the day, some question remains as to their legality. At the present time, the majority of states do not view daily fantasy sports as gambling, as picking the correct players involves a skill component as opposed to pure luck. An in-depth exploration of this topic is worthy of investigation, as unless legislation is passed, daily fantasy sports contests are not going away.

Daily fantasy sports contests are now being played daily on a number of sites involving nearly every sport. Traditional sports that have been popular in the fantasy format including Baseball and Football are also popular in the daily fantasy format. The appeal of daily fantasy sports is that on any given day a player might have an outstanding performance and the daily fantasy sports owner who had enough foresight to draft said player might make themselves a lot of money.

While the practice of daily fantasy sports appears to be harmless and nothing more than legally aged adults competing against one another to see who can predict real-life athletic performance better than others, many have started to question how daily fantasy sports differs from gambling? A legitimate argument can be made that either regular sports gambling is not gambling at all or daily fantasy sports games are gambling. A deeper exploration of the two points of view provides insight to this vigorous debate.

The debate that sports gambling should not be illegal and involves more skill than luck is gaining supporters due in part to the preponderance of daily fantasy sports games. A legitimate argument can be made that much like daily fantasy sports, gambling involves a significant skill component. In order to be successful when gambling on sports over a long term basis, one must have some knowledge of the teams they wish to bet on, the particular match ups that constitute the game being played, and the extent to which the odds on the game are legitimate or not. While it is true that outside factors influence any given sports contest, and there is some luck involved, an equally valid argument can be made that due to the knowledge base required to be successful, gambling is also a game of skill.

An opposite argument can be made regarding daily fantasy sports. While the argument that knowing which players to select and fitting them in under a fictitious salary cap takes some skill, an equally valid argument can be made regarding luck, and therefore the legality of said contests. Take last weeks NFL game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the St. Louis Rams. Due to his dominant performance against the San Francisco 49ers during the previous week, it is probably that many daily fantasy sports players picked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for their teams. Unfortunately, as is often the case in the National Football League, Roethlisberger got hurt somewhat early in the game and did not put up the numbers/score the amount of points for daily fantasy sports players as is usual for him. Due to this stroke of bad luck many daily fantasy sports players likely lost money, due to factors outside of their control, the very definition of luck.

A giant elephant in the room regarding daily fantasy sports is the same argument that has been made against sports gambling since its inception. This argument involves the potential tainting of the game by outside influences, some of which are related to organized crime. From Pete Rose to Paul Hornung stories abound about players either betting on games or performing particularly badly in games due to being approached/paid by influences outside of the game. A similar argument can be made involving daily fantasy sports. Daily fantasy sports contests have become so popular that at times, the top prize often exceeds $1 million. Whose to say that a particularly savvy gambler does not approach a top player and offer them a high amount of money to either play poorly or not participate in a game at all and thus effect the integrity of the daily fantasy sports contest. While no evidence exists that this has occurred at any point in time, the possibility for it to occur, is realistically quite high.

As time goes on, it will be interesting to see what happens to daily fantasy sports contests. Online poker was legal for quite some time before eventually being banned in all areas except states where gambling is legal. The same fate may or may not ultimately affect daily fantasy sports.

More realistically, daily fantasy sports might ultimately have a similar fate as another highly controversial illicit activity, Marijuana. Due to its growing popularity and the increasing amounts of money being spent on it, states might opt to keep daily fantasy sports contests legal, but heavily tax the games. This scenario is a win-win for all parties involved as daily fantasy sports players will have the opportunity to continue to keep playing, and municipalities will be able to profit from participation in said contests within their jurisdictions. One thing is for sure, daily fantasy sports are not going away. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for these contests of skill and/or luck.

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