Generally Recognized as Gambling: Daily Fantasy Sports

Testimony Before the Hearing on Daily Fantasy Sports held by Committees of the New York State Legislature,  8 December 2015

GamblinglosspictureMy name is Stephen Shafer. I chair Coalition Against Gambling in New York, an all-volunteer organization registered in Buffalo since 2007. Our members have different philosophies about gambling. The mainstream holds that not all gambling is bad for society or the individual. A March Madness pool where 100% of entry fees are paid out to winners, a game of cards among true friends, a bet on whether it was Yogi or Casey who made a certain remark – these actions don’t bother us. What does, and deeply, is predatory gambling – gambling in which some party profits predictably over time by preying on others. That party can be “the house” or “sharks” or both.

I think Attorney General Eric Schneiderman  is entirely right that Daily Fantasy Sports of the DraftKings and FanDuel type is gambling under New York State law; payback depends on a future contingent event that the person placing the stake cannot control. That person controls the selection of his fantasy team, but not the actual performances of the component athletes from which the outcome of the contest derives. A horseplayer uses skill to decide which horses to pick at for the trifecta, but where the horses place that day is not in her control. No one denies that is gambling.

Assuming DFS is gambling, it is certainly illegal. The State Constitution bans all gambling in New York State except (by specific amendments allowing regulated parimutuel, charitable gambling, Lottery and (as of 2013) up to seven non-Indian casinos in the future. There is no exception for any kind of betting on sports, either live action or fixed odds. There is no exception for internet gambling.

The business model of i-poker and online FS is similar to that of a casino or a state lottery:

  • Recruit people through their hopes of payoffs far greater than investments.
  • Keep their loyalty with frequent small payouts and tidings of rich payoffs to others.
  • Replace them as they burn out, go broke or jump ship.

Result:  some, far from all, of the internet  “players” become problem gamblers and addicted gamblers. They damage, even wreck, not only their own lives but those of all around them, the hidden victims of predatory gambling – spouses, children, parents, in-laws, siblings, employers, employees, clients, neighbors. With  “land-based” casinos and state lotteries, half the revenue (sometimes more than half) comes from problem and addicted gamblers, maybe 12-15% of customers. Their net losses are drained from someone else by deception or bullying or crime. These gamblers need help; so, in greater measure because there are far more of them, do those they are ripping off. My organization has great respect for clinicians and peers who help problem gamblers day to day. Our focus, however, is to stop expansion of predatory gambling. That’s why we hold that DFS and all forms of so-called i-gaming are illegal and should stay that way. That’s why we support the AG’s stance.

There are differences between the model for i-poker and online DFS on the one hand and that for casinos and government-run lotteries on the other. In the first group, “players” pay real attention to the action.   Some win more consistently than others through preparation (e.g. scripts in DFS) and mental probability calculations as in i-poker. This is called skill, though it can verge on insider trading in DFS. In the second group, no decision-making is needed beyond which card to buy or slot machine to go to.

In i-poker and DFS newcomers have no idea how they will fare. They don’t know how their skills stack up to those of other players, most of whom are strangers; moreover, chance has a big role. The game board changes day to day, hour to hour. They are really less well-informed about their chances of success than slot players who know they can expect long-term about 88-93 cents back for every $ invested.

In i-poker and online DFS there are two types of predator: the house, or operator, which takes a  percentage of the pot (“the rake”) or of pooled wagers (which DFS calls “entry fees”);  and the elite stratum of well-prepared pros or near-pros who pocket most of the money laid out  by everyone. In the typical casino or state Lottery setup – a slot machine – the house is the only predator, setting its expected payout % as it sees fit under regulation.

Operations with player predators (“sharks”) need prey (“ fish”) to contribute to the betting pool or join the poker game. Heavy advertisement with upfront incentives is the way to get new fish. Fish may know a lot about their sports, but few can match the preparations of the sharks.   Some fish will fall into the cycle of chasing losses that spells problem gambling. If there are indeed 500,000 DFS participants in New York State , then it is likely there are, or will be soon, at least 20,000 problem gamblers and addicted gamblers among them.

I surmise that the distribution of players’ net losses and net wins is different from that of a casino or Lottery. In the latter, the small fraction of users who are the most “involved” – that is, invest the most time and money– provide the lion’s share of gamblers’ net losses (= house’s net win). In DFS, the biggest investors are the few sharks, who divide among themselves as their winnings nearly all the pooled bets. The investments of problem gamblers and addicted gamblers are perhaps not as over-represented in the winners’ pot as they are (> = 50%) in the gross gaming revenue of a casino or a state Lottery. In that sense the AG’s action in ordering a shutdown of DFS is consumer protection as well as an effort to prevent the cultivation of problem gamblers.

Why don’t we see many problem gamblers or members of their circles here today?  Why do most complaints voiced to the media re DFS relate to how the player was cheated or had winnings withheld, not how he was suckered into layers of debt and despair?

  • Most problem gamblers and addicted gamblers are in denial at any given moment.
  • The culture of recovery says “Don’t make the casino/game/track or whatever responsible for your gambling problem. You take responsibility.” This keeps current and recovering problem gamblers from taking a public stand against gambling.
  • The many victims of state-sponsored predatory gambling who are not gamblers themselves (collateral casualties) need not be “gambling-neutral,” but are often too ashamed or guilty to speak out against the casino or the operator.

Thus DFS and other longer-established forms of internet gambling not legal in most states, like i-poker, have great potential for harm that reaches beyond the ostensible victims, beyond the problem gamblers themselves. This is why they are illegal.

To legalize illegal activities and “regulate” them is not a solution. It gives government a conflict of interest. Tight regulation lowers profit margins and hence government’s share.

When DFS have been unequivocally recognized in NYS courts as gambling and therefore incontestably illegal, the legislature should not cure these companies by legalization and regulation. Thank you.

Post script: the operations of Fan Duel and Draft Kings in New York State have not ceased since the AG called for that to happen.  They  continue  while the case is on appeal.  A decision appears unlikely before the end of 2016.

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce any part of this piece as long as the permalink above is cited.

Daily Fantasy Sports Is Internet Gambling and Illegal

220px-TheprocessionofthetrojanhorseintroybygiovannidomenicotiepoloOn Nov 10 2015  NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman  announced that his had issued  a cease and desist order to  Fan Duel and Draft Kings, the two largest operator of Daily Fantasy Sports.  He gave them five days to voluntarily close, which they did not do. The November 10 order  got  much  notice in the NY papers, with an editorial in the NY Times essentially supporting it,  though talking about “strict regulation.”   The Daily News had a 2-page news article      and an  editorial saying that the AG is correct, plus  an op-ed. The news article had a sidebar by the writer of this post..  The Post had a front page article, though their editorial took issue with  the AG’s action.

The Times article on Nov 11 provoked a flood of comments, most angry at the decision.    Dissenters generally used one or more  of four basic  arguments (1) skill is involved; so, it’s not gambling  (2) the NYS lottery holds a much higher proportion  of users’  losses  than do DFS operators,  yet the AG does not try to enjoin it  (3)  no one is being hurt by participation (4) the AG wants to get money for the state by imposing regulation.

My comments on these comments:

“Skill”  certainly determines success, but relatively  few participants have that skill,  It lets them  exploit the vast majority.  As the AG memo below says, this is still gambling.  Take a few minutes to watch TV satirist John Oliver on this.  A recent lawsuit in Alabama gives a another useful perspective on gambling.

The NYS Lottery is an abomination,  but it is technically legal with enough seniority in that status that even I can’t fault the AG for not now going after every aspect of it.  The floridly illegal aspects, like hybrid table games with physical dice,  I do wish he would challenge.

Full-blown cases of gambling addiction already spawned by DFS are not numerous, are still largely hearsay to my ears. It is still early.  Yet  the exploitation of  “fish”  (less expert participants) by “sharks”  with their computer routines is no less predatory than the behavior of a casino or a state lottery.  It’s just that in DFS there are two types of predator,  not one.  Besides the operator there are the sharks. The ad blitz of the last few months is meant to recruit  millions of fish by deceptive advertising.

To the fourth argument   I would reply that  the AG has not proposed to regulate DFS.  He has said they are illegal and should stop operating in NYS.  Devising regulations to legalize is not his job.  His motivation is to protect New York’s people from being exploited by illegal gambling and to enforce existing regulations.  It is up to  the legislature to regulate.

Daily Fantasy Sports herniated through a loophole in the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and should be surgically reduced.  It is  a strong bridge to two activities that are at this time illegal in New York State and in most jurisdictions in this country: internet gambling not on sports, such as i-poker or internet casino “games” and betting on sports.  The bridge could reach  further,  to the gambling entrepreneurs’ promised land of legalized internet betting on sports.  DFS should not be “regulated.”  It should stay illegal.

Below is a forwarded message from the AG to the public and press,  a strong summary.

If you read this post, please send a comment to the AG to counter the pickets and telephone chains of complaint his office has been dealing with from DFS partisans.

Click here for a link to the AG’s office

Below is a press release from the AG dated November 17.  On Nov 19 Mr.  Schneiderman had an op-ed in the Daily News that complements the press release.  Either is a great source for writing a letter to the editor of a paper near to you.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2015

New York City Press Office / 212-416-8060
Albany Press Office / 518-776-2427
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov
Twitter: AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SEEKS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST FANDUEL AND DRAFTKINGS

NEW YORK—Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed an enforcement action this morning in New York State Supreme Court in the County of New York, seeking a preliminary injunction against DraftKings and FanDuel.  The Attorney General’s suit details alleged violations of law by DraftKings and FanDuel.

The Attorney General’s memorandum of law and complaint against DraftKings can be found here and here. A copy of the memorandum of law and complaint against FanDuel can be found here and here.

The following are excerpts of the memorandum of law filed by the Office of the Attorney General:

  • The New York State Constitution has prohibited bookmaking and other forms of sports gambling since 1894. Under New York law, a wager constitutes gambling when it depends on either a (1) “future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence” or (2) “contest of chance.” So-called Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) wagers fit squarely in both these definitions, though by meeting just one of the two definitions DFS would be considered gambling.  DFS is nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting. It is plainly illegal.
  • Yet FanDuel and DraftKings insist that DFS is not gambling because it involves skill. But this argument fails for two clear reasons. First, this view overlooks the explicit prohibition against wagering on future contingent events, a statutory test that requires no judgment of the relative importance of skill and chance—they are irrelevant to the question. Second, the key factor establishing a game of skill is not the presence of skill, but the absence of a material element of chance. Here, chance plays just as much of a role (if not more) than it does in games like poker and blackjack. A few good players in a poker tournament may rise to the top based on their skill; but the game is still gambling.  So is DFS.
  • FanDuel and DraftKings’ current denials about DFS constituting gambling are belied by how the sites depicted themselves in the past and how they portray themselves behind closed doors.  FanDuel’s DFS contests were designed by a veteran of the legal online betting industry in the United Kingdom, Nigel Eccles.  The company admitted to an early investor that its target market is male sports fans who “cannot gamble online legally.”
  • DraftKings depicts itself to investors in a similar fashion. For example, in one investor presentation, DraftKings pitched itself to a prospective investor by noting the “Global opportunity for online betting,” pointing to the massive revenue of the “global online poker market,” and making direct comparisons throughout the presentation to poker and sports wagering.
  • The CEO of DraftKings previously spoke openly about DraftKings as a gambling company.  He called DFS a “mash[-]up between poker and fantasy sports,” suggested that DraftKings operates in the “gambling space,” and  described its revenue model as “identical to a casino.”
  • The rejection of the gambling label by the DFS sites is particularly hard to square with the overt strategy of recruiting gamblers. For FanDuel, this has meant hiring a former top executive from Full Tilt, the online poker company, and affiliating with gambling industry stalwarts like “Vegas Insider” and BetVega, a sports betting and handicapping website. For DraftKings, this has meant aligning itself closely and negotiating sponsorships with other gambling ventures, like the World Series of Poker and the Belmont Stakes.
  • DraftKings has also embedded gambling keywords into the programming code for its website. Some of these keywords include “‘fantasy golf betting,’’ “weekly fantasy basketball betting,” ‘‘weekly fantasy hockey betting,” “weekly fantasy football betting,” “weekly fantasy college football betting,” “weekly fantasy college basketball betting,” “Fantasy College Football Betting,” “daily fantasy basketball betting,” and “Fantasy College Basketball Betting.” This increases the likelihood that search engines, like Google, will send users looking for gambling straight to the DraftKings site.
  • FanDuel’s advertisements commonly showcase testimonials from ostensibly ordinary DFS players (g.,“Zack from Fairfield, California”), and play up the ease of playing and of winning huge cash prizes…The reality is that like poker, blackjack, and horseracing, a small percentage of professional gamblers use research, software, and large bankrolls to extract a disproportionate share of DFS jackpots. With poker and DFS, professional players, known as “sharks,” profit at the expense of casual players, known as “minnows.” The numbers show that the vast majority of players are net losers, losing far more money playing on the sites than they win. DraftKings data show that 89.3% of DFS players had an overall negative return on investment across 2013 and 2014.
  • While irresponsibly denying their status as gambling companies, the DFS Sites pose precisely the same risks to New York residents that New York’s anti-gambling laws were intended to avoid. Experts in gambling addiction and other compulsive behaviors have identified DFS as a serious and growing threat to people at risk for, or already struggling with, gambling-related illnesses.
  • Jeffrey L. Derevensky, Director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behavior at McGill University, notes that, among other things, false or misleading representations of the skill involved in DFS “can lead players to a preoccupation with DFS, chasing of losses, and developing symptoms and behaviors associated with a gambling disorder.”

The illustration reproduces  a painting by Tiepolo with a timeless theme.  The opinions expressed in this post, aside from the quote by the AG’s office, are entirely those of the editor, Stephen Q. Shafer and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all other members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York.  Permission to reproduce in full or in part is hereby granted on condition that the permalink above is cited.