Fantasy sports have been around for many years. In 1980, at a peer meeting, sports journalist Daniel Okrent created the first fantasy baseball league and the concept grew in popularity quickly. In 1984, Fantasy Football Digest created the first fantasy football rules book, and in 1999 the Fantasy Sports Trade Association was founded. At that time, a weekly column was already being written in USA Today on this subject.
Traditional fantasy sports are a game in which a group of players, called the League, select from a number of active professional athletes a sufficient number to build their fictional team. The player whose team won the most points during the season, wins the game, thus, simple. But to get to that level, players should spend a lot of time collecting data and sports statistics to build their teams. So much effort made that, in time, one began to make timid bets in money, in the beginning, soon to involve larger quantities.
On the other hand, Daily Fantasy Sports is a bit more complicated. The difference is that players waiting for an entire football season to know who won and who lost, in the Daily Sports have the results announced every day. So you can place your bets in the morning and in the afternoon you'll know if you've made any money or got lost. While traditional fantasy games play between friends and co-workers, daily sports are played online by thousands of enthusiasts. Each player contributes two or three dollars to enter the League, so the player who wins can take up to one million. It is not depreciable.
And here begins the dilemma. Due to the obvious circumstances it is considered a skill game and therefore should not be banned. However, the portion of bad luck is seen by regulators as something that should not be allowed. To illustrate, we will comment on the Texas case in the United States, where lawmakers debate between ability to create teams and the bad luck of the results. Some state officials, such as Democrat Richard Raymond, say that anyone who says that everyday fantasy games are not a game of skill is a person who has never played. Raymond is leading a parliamentary effort to make these games legal in Texas with new legislation.
This situation is behind the strength of a dozen groups led by the two main operators of this game, FanDuel and DraftKings, which added to this industry millions of players in the United States and Canada. The bill presented by Raymond explains that "the opportunity to assemble a fictional team composed of professional or amateur athletes by one participant to compete against other fictional teams assembled by other participants ... is a good faith competition to determine the ability of this participant in the assembly of his team."
However, against the Raymond bill, which was debated on the legislature's licensing and administrative procedures committee, is the pressure group led by the Texas General Baptist Convention. Baptists explained that as the people pays to play fantasy sports with the hope of accumulating prizes "is a clear definition that it is a game of chance." This group considers that there is an element of chance in fantasy games and this element is what defines the game as being illegal in the state.
In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton explained that while the formation of a fantasy team is based on the statistics of professional athletes and this could have a skill component, it is out of the rational discussion that the leagues of daily fantasy games involve elements of chance by how players select their athletes on game day. Also, he explained that the games where the participants have to pay to play are against the state laws of gambling.
Despite these restrictions, daily fantasy games companies have never shown any sign of slowing growth. The two industry giants, DraftKings and FanDuel, intended to merge into a single company some time ago, but after months of negotiations, it was nothing more than an abrupt quit attempt. It is understandable that none of the business conglomerates want to give way to the other, and so the struggle for supremacy continues. Each day, these two companies generate thousands of dollars with fantasy bets and only DraftKings has a platform of eight million users.
The business is huge and the dilemma whether it is a game of strategy or chance, will follow because it is a position according to the color seen from the crystal. However, those who defend it insist that studying statistics, building teams based on the performance of professional athletes in the real world and following the results daily, shows who was more skilled, but their detractors are not sure of this.
They are convinced that the very action of the daily bet and the professionalization of their bettors, turns the DFS into an authentic net of illegal betting fantasized as an innocent game. They explain that while traditional fantasy sports are played occasionally and among a small group of friends, DFS involves huge sums of money and hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts around the world. The two positions are acceptable from the point of view of the one who postulates it.
Still, entrepreneurs in the industry explain that DFS are becoming more popular every day because they fit the current age needs of young people between 18 and 35 years old. These people expect to live very different experiences from their parents because they grew up playing high quality video games and are immersed in constant social interactions. For them, DFS are becoming something very new in the sports betting world because today's youngsters want games that can challenge their skills.
However, not everything is perfect. There are cases where over-enthusiasm and lack of control have made players problematic. DFS is a billion dollar industry that involves the media, hedge funds, and professional sports organizations that move money and people. In the world of illegality and lack of regulation, the real problem is the absence of safeguards to protect troubled players and young adults, not the Byzantine discussion of whether it is just sports betting or a game in which chance is mixed with the skill of the player.
FABIAN BATAGLIAFabián Bataglia. Journalist specializing in the gambling industry; graduated in Social Communication at the CAECE University of Buenos Aires and professor of Journalism and Communication at this university. Specialist in information production and digital communication; currently works in Diario del Juego of Buenos Aires, Argentina.