Sunday Evening Post

Gambling, Fantasy Sports and the Total Hypocrisy of MLB

Daniel Okrent, a writer for the New York Times, came up with the idea of Fantasy Baseball in 1980 (named Rotisserie League Baseball after the restaurant where he conducted the drafts.) He and his friends would each cough up $250, choose a group of players as their “team” and the overall winner kept half the pot. At the time, he was also writing a book (“Nine Innings“) about a single baseball game between Milwaukee (then in the AL) and Baltimore that required extensive access to players, officials and the clubhouse. Worried that his fantasy sports would be perceived as “gambling”, he restricted drafts to National League players only, making the Brewers and Orioles irrelevant and calming the fears of the baseball gurus. (“A guy I came to know in the American League president’s office said it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Okrent said to a reporter. “You know the moralism they’ve always brought to the very idea of gambling.”)
The folks at the top of baseball must not be as concerned these days. Draft Kings is “The Official Daily Fantasy Baseball Game of MLB” (MLB is a part owner of Draft Kings as well). I guess money can calm a lot of fears. Between Draft Kings and Fan Duel, experts estimate they spent about $30 million dollars in advertising… LAST WEEK.
I’ve got no problems with gambling or fantasy sports. I have put a few dollars down on a game in Vegas. And as a radio personality I have been approached about being a “spokesperson” for a daily fantasy sports game (and might take them up on it). It is the total hypocrisy of the powers that be that fascinates me. MLB is a party to the lawsuit to stop New Jersey from making sports betting legal. (Rob Manfred has made some recent comments in support of a “federal system to regulate” legal gambling but hasn’t dropped the suit yet.) But it seems once the cash comes out, “moralism” is no longer a concern. Perhaps Chris Christie should have gotten his checkbook out – Atlantic City could have been “The Official Sports Book of MLB.”

True, fantasy sports is technically legal according to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 as a game of skill.. and betting on the outcome of an individual game is not. Let’s compare:

In Draft Kings, I give them money, choose a group of players and based on how those players perform, Draft Kings gives me more money or keeps mine.

But a gambler, like say Pete Rose, goes to a bookie or sports book, gives them money, chooses a team and based on how the group of players on that team perform, the gambler gets more money or loses his.

Oh yeah, sure, I see it. There is a “skill” in choosing the group of players, and no “skill” in just picking a team.

And that skill is mastered by very few people. These games are won by research driven full time players. According to recent reports, 91% of the money in fantasy sports is won by 1.3% of the participants. Even the guy who invented this whole thing has never won his own league. Joe Average doesn’t have a chance – what’s that old saying – “When you sit down at the table and can’t figure out who the sucker is.. it’s YOU!”

Gambling is accepted legal behavior in almost every state in the US today. Between horse racing, casinos and lottery tickets there are plenty of ways to lose your money. Gambling on sports, whether it’s a fantasy team or a three game parlay, gives the average person some skin in the game and makes viewing a little more exciting. The current foray into daily fantasy sports shows that MLB knows all of this and wants their cut. They should just be more honest about it.
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This is my last column of the season for Redleg Nation. I hope to continue writing over the off season about the Reds, baseball and media and even come back next year if invited. I have had a ton of fun interacting with the readers of this blog. It’s been an interesting year (my fellow blogger John Ring described it as an “unmitigated disaster”) :

Lowlights of 2015 – the obvious (including the dumpster fire game Saturday where I got to be in the stands and watch the Mets clinch. Announced attendance over 32 thousand, most of them dressed up as empty seats)

Highlights – The Toddfather becoming Home Run Derby King (and the new format), Labor Day Weekend in the Champions Club with the Redleg Nation crew and discovering “The Corner” in Cleveland (an idea I wish the Reds would embrace)

Have a great off season. And I leave you with the words of a true Cincinnati sports fan – “WHO DEY!”

14 thoughts on “Gambling, Fantasy Sports and the Total Hypocrisy of MLB

  1. I suspect Pete Rose is going to receive some sort of official partial reinstatement which fits the roles they have allowed him to be part of to date and also dissipates some of the hypocrisy surrounding MLB’s participation in “fantasy” games.

    I think Rose will also likely be permitted on the field as a media employee subject to the same access restrictions as any other person with media credentials. They may find a wrinkle to keep him out of the clubhouses even as a media person however.

    I think he will not be permitted to be a coach, manager, or front office person in any capacity.

    I’d look for Manfred to try and lateral the HoF eligibility issue back off onto BBWA. especially since BBWA essentially rode the coattails of the MLB ban as justification for their ban.

  2. This whole fantasy thing is so clearly gambling. Even if it is legal for fans, there is no way players should be involved in any way.

  3. There is no hypocrisy. A random person sitting in his basement playing fantasy baseball on fan duel/draft kings etc. couldn’t possibly affect the outcome of a game.

    Even if we just say that fantasy sports are gambling…so what….Rose wasn’t banned for gambling. He isn’t locked out of the HOF because he spent too much time at River Downs or had a March Madness Pool……he was banned for wagering on games in which he made the lineups and changed the pitchers. How could anyone compare a manager wagering on games involving his team and some random dude with WI-FI and a Fan Duel account?

    Yes…..the bulk of Fantasy Winnings have gone to a small number of participants. If 1 person wins 1 million dollars on Draft Kings and another 1 million is split by 10,000 people its going to skew the percentages but a lot of people still won money.

    These sites are good…even necessary for baseball to not just grow, but to maintain. Baseball’s demographics are simply awful. At one time, boxing and horse racing were more popular than the NFL…..stuff happens, things change. In general, people under 40 don’t watch or listen to baseball games. The ability to have “an interest” in a baseball game is the only way the millennials are going to tune in on a regular basis. Baseball would be crazy not to monetize that.

    Sunday Night Football is the most watched PrimeTime TV show…..by woman….and much of that change has been driven by Fantasy Football. The game of baseball is going the way of the French Foreign Legion or the Beta Max….fantasy sports are the only way it can prosper as its current fans are dying at a greater rate than they are being replaced.

    • The brutal truth…I agree.. Painful as it is..I am glad I won’t be around when the all of the current fan base is gone..

    • “How could anyone compare a manager wagering on games involving his team and some random dude with WI-FI and a Fan Duel account?” So it would be okay for Bryan Price to have his own fantasy team with mostly Mets and then manage his pitching staff? (I’m sorry I used Pete as an example here, as this is not about him.) But this is about the difference between the average Joe in his basement with Wi-Fi and his choice of games. Why can’t he pick a three game parlay on a Sunday afternoon with the same laptop he is choosing his starting pitchers for the week?

      “The ability to have “an interest” in a baseball game is the only way the millennials are going to tune in on a regular basis. Baseball would be crazy not to monetize that.” Then why fight New Jersey’s attempt to do the same thing?

      “a lot of people still won money (playing daily fantasy sports)” We can have that argument another time. This looks like a rigged game to me, rigged to benefit the hustler against the average random basement dude.

      At least we agree, in a very roundabout sort of way, about the future of sports and baseball.

      • I wrote a research paper on UIGEA in law school so I’m somewhat familiar with the concept.

        “Then why fight New Jersey’s attempt to do the same thing?”

        2 reasons:
        1) Money (why should the MLB willingly permit other entities to profit off their product without getting a share of the profits?
        2) Integrity of the game issues (which really is just indirectly implicating #1). A big gambling scandal would impact MLB’s bottom line. It’d be really difficult to arrange a scandal for fantasy sports as there are simply too many moving parts.

        The real hypocrisy is in the gambling regulations itself. Grown men and women aren’t allowed to spend their money as they see fit online because of this weird coalition of anti-gambling advocates came together to sneak in UIGEA on the Patriot Act, but they left open fantasy sports & march madness pools so that the average joe’s wouldn’t be up in arms.

        • I watch the Brit Premier League (world football) every week. Just for the heck of it, one day I tried to access the online betting website of the (legal) betting operation which was the shirt sponsor of one of the teams. I was of course blocked and received a message about I could not visit the site because my IP address was registered as a US based IP address,

        • Yeah, I remember Black Friday when the US came down hard on the 2 major online poker websites and I saw a similar page. I’m not a gambler but will play games of skill like poker (which unbelievably, is not considered a game of skill by the US government, whereas daily fantasy sports is).

          It’s unbelievable to me that this weird coalition exists. I’m pretty apolitical, but you have sleazy casino tycoons like Sheldon Adelson funneling money to block online poker so that his brick-and-mortar casinos have less competition. You have religious conservatives blocking online gambling because they want to save your soul, and you have classic liberals blocking online gambling because they want to save poor people from themselves. One of the few voices of reason was Barney Frank of all people. What a world.

          I believe I speak for all lazy 33 year olds when I say that I don’t want to drive 30 minutes to sit in a smoke-filled room and sit next to smelly, grumpy old men for 4-8 hours. I want to sit in my shorts in my living room watching the Reds and playing 60 minutes of hold ’em!

        • Hypothetically speaking Jim, some of them websites have sister websites that are open to Americans (XYZ.com doesn’t work, but XYZ.lv does). Just sayin’.

    • I don’t think the demographics are as bad as you make out. There is just something about baseball that appeals to children and people over 30. A lot of people drift away from baseball in their teens and come back in their thirties.

      Not to get political, and I’m not endorsing either side, but it’s like saying that conservatism is going to die out because most people from 18-25 are liberal. Yes, they are, and a lot will stay liberal, but a pretty big chunk will become more conservative as they get older. I believe it was Churchill who said “If you’re not liberal in your twenties then you don’t have a heart. If you’re not conservative in your forties, you don’t have a brain.” Our preferences and the things important to us change over time. Baseball will be just fine as long as it continues to make an impression on enough kids so that later in their life they can rediscover the game of their youth.

      I thought it was interesting that you mentioned horse racing and boxing, since the decline of those two sports had a lot to do with gambling and race, or fight, fixing.

  4. I am not sure if it is hypocritical, but I have often thought it distasteful watching the hundreds of Draft Kings segments on MLB. They are encouraging gambling on the game from fans, analysts, and former players. Are we really to believe that current players and management at all levels is gambling free. Truth is MLB is more interested in making a lot of extra money on this. Still not as big an issue as bad and/or inconsistent strike zones from umpires.

    • And how are we to know that the strike zone abuses are not part of influencing outcome for someone’s gain.

      Look at some of the shenanigans that go nearly weekly in the NFL. Almost certainly there are multiple instances of outcome management by the officials. To me the key for how it slip largely under the rfdar is that the OM is against the spread or over/ under and it is only incidental when it impacts the actual winner or loser of the game.

  5. Cannot agree more, and I wrote much the same thing (from a broader angle) recently. Basically, a culture of “get-rich-quick” culture is taking hold in all facets of life, from baseball to investing. Super alarming.

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