Mac Engel

Yes, fantasy sports are gambling, but let’s be consistent

DraftKings advertises its fantasy sports site at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 6.
DraftKings advertises its fantasy sports site at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 6. AP

In our great state a’ Texas, gambling is a no-no, and strictly verboten. Except at what is left of our horse tracks. And the state lottery.

Other than that, take your gambling money to Mexico, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas or Louisiana. We don’t want that sin in this state, except when we do, but there is a chance fantasy sports may be “slot-machined” and booted out of Texas.

Our state’s elected and appointed officials added a new wing to their Hypocrisy Mansion when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton this week called out the wildly popular daily fantasy sports websites, such as DraftKings and FanDuel; the two companies had been printing money until other states took action against them.

Much like rulings in other states, Paxton says these ventures amount to illegal gambling.

“There are multiple reasons fantasy sports are not gambling,” attorney Randy Mastro told me over the phone this week. Mastro is one of the New York lawyers representing DraftKings in the growing number of cases against fantasy sports. “First and foremost, it’s a game of skill.”

Don’t listen to anybody who says fantasy sports are not gambling because they are gambling.

We agree to disagree here. Don’t listen to anybody who says fantasy sports are not gambling because they are gambling.

Bowling is a game of skill because the bowler controls the spin, speed and placement of the ball. Chess is a game of skill where the player controls where the pieces actually go. Football is a game of skill where the player runs, jumps, throws, tackles and catches.

A game of skill involves the participant participating, not merely predicting, guessing and praying based on myriad statistics.

Whether it is the NBA, NFL or the states of New York, Texas, Illinois and others that are in a fight with these websites over the definition of gambling, all this is semantics — and a slow delay to the inevitable that one day all of this will be open, legal, regulated and taxed much like cigarettes and booze.

Fantasy sports are a vice and the leagues and our government are merely figuring out a way to appease their bosses, their constituents and, eventually, will draft rules and legislation that will allow them to weasel in to get their cut.

If Paxton, or Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, wants to drop the hammer on gambling, then do away with the lottery and horse tracks. To allow one and not the other is another example of selective morality and slaloming semantics from politicians.

Neither Paxton nor State Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton) responded to requests for interviews.

At the Daily Fantasy Sports Conference this week in Dallas, America’s No. 1 real-life fantasy sports owner — Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban — spoke out against the politicians who believe these websites amount to illegal gambling.

I don’t think DFS [Daily Fantasy Sports] is gambling. You have to be smart. You have to put in the time. You have to do the work.

Mark Cuban

“I don’t think DFS is gambling,” Cuban said during the conference. “You have to be smart. You have to put in the time. You have to do the work.”

I agree with Cuban’s sentiments that much of the outrage against fantasy sports is politicians posturing for publicity, but to suggest these sites are not gambling is denial.

To play FanDuel or DraftKings, you don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to put in the time. You don’t have to do any work.

All you need is a credit card. Or a PayPal account. If you have one, you receive a “free” bonus of $25 to $600 and you are on your way to making millions in fantasy sports.

What could possibly go wrong?

Men like Paxton believe betting on your fantasy team is no different than putting down $100 on the New England Patriots covering the 3-point spread in Sunday’s AFC title game in Denver.

“They’re completely different,” Mastro said. “In fantasy sports, you are not betting. You pay an entry fee for predetermined prizes.”

In a Vegas sportsbook, that is the equivalent of paying the casino the predetermined percentage on, for example, a $50 bet. And there is a predetermined prize if your pick wins: You take home $45.

It’s no different than a beauty pageant or a bass fishing tournament.

Randy Mastro, a New York attorney who is representing DraftKings

“Under Texas law, if you pay an entry fee and compete for a prize, that is not gambling and it’s not expressly against Texas’ prohibition against gambling,” Mastro said. “It’s no different than a beauty pageant or a bass fishing tournament.”

In a beauty pageant or a bass fishing tournament, the participants compete in a “skill competition.”

Fantasy sports feel closer to the oldest, most legal, form of gambling in America — picking stocks. There is insider trading, there are analysts, and there are “sure things.”

“Thank you for saying that — that is the point,” Mastro said. “That is someone using their skill to make a decision on investments. No one would suggest that is gambling, even though the broker may not always be right or pick a winner. But that is a skill in trying to pick winners, but that is clearly legal.”

We can debate what is a skill, but as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said during one of the GOP presidential debates last October: “Enough on fantasy football. Let people play. Who cares?”

Mr. Paxton, Gov. Abbott — if you are going to allow the good people of the great state a’ Texas to bet on horses, play the lotto or trade stocks, drop the charade against fantasy sports.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel: 817-390-7797, tengel@star-telegram.com, @macengelprof

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