Those of us in the gambling world know Norman Chad best as the funny man commentator on ESPN’s World Series of Poker broadcasts for more than a decade. It is easy to forget sometimes that he has been a talented newspaper columnist for much longer; it is in this medium that he made his voice heard on Sunday in The Washington Post, questioning the National Football League’s hypocrisy when it comes to daily fantasy sports and gambling.
In “The reality behind fantasy sports,” Chad addresses something we all know very well by now: DFS has taken the sports world by storm. Ads for FanDuel and DraftKings are unavoidable. He then explains that all of this is because of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA), which slowed down the flow of money to online poker sites, but included a carve-out for fantasy sports.
Difference between fantasy sports and sports betting is imaginary
“Why would fantasy sports be exempted?” Chad asked. “Because it was deemed a ‘game of skill.’ Poker and sports betting are considered games of chance. In other words, legislators are telling us — with a hilarious straight face — that when you play poker or bet sports, you are gambling, but when you play fantasy sports, you are not gambling.”
He added, “Sports betting is gambling but fantasy sports is not? That’s like saying an apple is a fruit but an avocado is not. Or that Narcissus was an egomaniacal narcissist but Donald Trump is not.”
He reiterated that in fantasy sports, like in poker and sports betting, you are “…risking your money against other people’s money — in my neighborhood, we call this GAMBLING — and then taking the other people’s money when you beat them, minus the house rake.”
NFL keeps tripping over itself
Chad then shifted gears slightly, moving from the government’s silliness to the NFL’s hypocrisy. The NFL, he said, has long kept gambling at arm’s length and continues to say it is against sports betting (though we all know that without sports betting, the NFL wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is), while at the same time being just fine with fantasy sports.
The league can’t seem to get its message straight, though. On the one hand, it has a fantasy sports section on its website, but on the other hand, it has prevented players from participating in fantasy events during the offseason. It doesn’t want the stink of sports betting, yet sends teams to play in London every season, where fans can bet at the games themselves.
But fantasy sports, where you gamble on individual players’ results rather than entire teams’, are A-OK. Keep in mind that the NFL lobbied against online poker in the run-up to the UIGEA’s passing, a game that has no effect on the league. No effect, that is, unless the NFL doesn’t want gambling dollars going towards something other than football games. Norman Chad continued his onslaught:
Meanwhile, several NFL stadiums have opened in-game fantasy sports zones to allow fans to follow their fantasy money. The Lions just built a club-level lounge sponsored by MGM Grand Detroit casino. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the Kraft Group — that would be blueblood, integrity-is-my-middle-name Patriots patriarch Robert Kraft — have stakes in DraftKings.
And that’s what is so odd about the NFL’s stance on fantasy sports. Most of the league’s teams – 28 of 32 – have at the very least advertisements for one of the two big DFS sites in their stadiums and oftentimes much more, like a DFS-sponsored fantasy lounge where fans can go to follow their pretend teams during the real games. But while that is all happening, the league itself insists that the DFS sites are not sponsoring any teams (all while FanDuel is prominently placed on the NFL’s own website). NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the USA Today that there is a difference between being a sponsor and being an advertiser:
A team sponsor is a company that can use the team logo or say, “We are the official (company) of the team.” That is not the case here. These companies are not team sponsors. Officially or unofficially. They do not have any designations. Teams have advertising arrangements from a variety of companies, but that doesn’t make every one of them a team sponsor.
It’s all just so confusing. The NFL doesn’t like sports betting, but it’s ok with fantasy sports, but is unwilling to align itself too close with DFS sites even though almost every team has, and DFS ads are shown every commercial break on Sundays. And still online poker is the devil. It’s enough to disorient you into starting Ryan Fitzpatrick this weekend.