There are so many fun things going on this season that I should glory in a seven game division lead and sing the Yankees’ praises. And maybe I will do that next week. However, there has been something sticking in my craw for weeks now and I need to talk about it. The “It” is Major League Baseball’s marriage to DraftKings. The deal is, of course, worth millions to the league and its owners and you could even say that it draws more interest to the game from casual fans. But that doesn’t make this a good thing for the game.
First, some background, both personal and about how we got here. Let’s start with the latter. In 2006, the federal government passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in response to a growing plague of online gambling sites. As a part of that law, it is spelled out that fantasy sports are not gambling because it is a game of skill and not of chance. The difference spelled out made it possible for sites like Draftkings and Fanduel to state emphatically that what they do is not gambling, but a game of skill.
That distinction makes all the difference because everything those sites do is legal according to the definition. Draftkings states that fact right on its site and Major League Baseball, which has made its bed with Drafkings, can and does hide behind the same distinction. For more detail on the law side of this equation, a good resource can be found here.
On the personal side of this equation is my long life and experience with addiction. I have addictive personalities on all sides of my family since I was a kid right up to the present. They include a mother-in-law, a stepfather, a stepdaughter and small spurts of it with immediate family members.
I have an addictive personality myself. I had to quit drinking the first time I went to college because I was out of control. The few times I’ve been to Las Vegas, I felt the draw and the pull. I’ve had to give up playing the lottery and am still battling food addiction. So far, nothing has ruined my life, but it hasn’t made it easy either.
As someone who has had the agony of changing the locks because a child was robbing us blind, I see these sites for what they are. The old saying that if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, etc. It is a duck.
Let’s get to that skill versus luck distinction. Skill says you should start Gerrit Cole the next time he starts. But if, God forbid, he gets hit in the kneecap with a line drive in the second inning, kiss your skill’s behind and welcome to the luck side of the equation.
Doesn’t poker have a certain element of skill to it? There are better players than others. But it is still considered gambling. Many gambling games have a skill element. A lot don’t. But calling a one day fantasy game involving money as a total skill equation is just too slippery for me. Someone might have purchased Mark Teixeira on Monday night and he mashed the ball his first three times up. All three ended up in the glove of a player on the other team. Sorry skillful guy.
In my opinion, if you can lose vast amounts of money doing something and can develop an addiction doing so, then that goes beyond a skill game and dives headlong into gambling.
These daily pay games go by the same psychology as used by Las Vegas and the lottery agencies. They let you win a little bit to make it fun and exciting. But except for a very few, you are playing with house money and the house is going to win (while you could lose your own house).
You may think I am being overly dramatic here. And I can concede the point since I am personally and emotionally involved. But that doesn’t mean that these games are not creating addicts. For a comedic take (that is sad at the same time), just read this story. For a more clinical and frightening story, read this one.
You may think that the lottery is not a bad thing because only a few people ruin their lives not “playing responsibly.” But the truth is, we are turning a blind eye to the few because the majority is able to control itself.
Major League Baseball has a long history of trying to protect itself from the “soil” of gambling. It is why Shoeless Joe Jackson will never be forgiven despite winning his court case! It is why Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banished from the game for a while for being doormen at a casino. It is why the all-time hit king will never be in the Hall of Fame and probably not in the game at any point.
How can a business that has worked so hard to protect itself from nefarious gambling issues make its bed with, definition or not, what is probably a gambling site. I can really see season long fantasy games being more skill driven because it spreads out the decision making throughout an entire season. But one game fantasy games are literally a crap shoot. Crap shoots are gambling. Major League Baseball has attached itself to what I feel is a gambling institution–albeit, a legal one.
It is not just that MLB has an advertising relationship with Draftkings. You cannot go to MLB.com or to the MLB Network and not be confronted by that relationship. But MLB is also a part owner of Draftkings! They are all in, folks.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post said it well by stating: “So Manfred is right that the game is legal. But he chose not to grapple with the broader ethical dilemma.” And it opens the door, according to Kilgore, to further adventures in sports betting. If that is where we are heading, maybe a remake of Field of Dreams would have something different for Joe Jackson to say.