This week, in New York, FanDuel and DraftKings were exposed for the facade they represent. Let me explain.
I love the game of football. I used to play fantasy football many years ago. Back then, it was fun to put together a team with your friends and see who might outdo the next guy or gal in the league. Back then, we only threw a couple of dollars into a pot, and there was an innocent winner at the end of the season. Back then, fantasy football hadn’t exploded into an enormous industry.
Back then, I used to be a gambler.
Fantasy football wasn’t the issue for me. My games were the casino games and Texas Hold ’em. Gambling nearly destroyed my family, our finances and me. I was actively suicidal, and there was no one I could talk to about the addiction. My wife knew about it, but she enabled me much as she would my alcoholism. How could she possibly confront a controlling jerk who was unwilling to admit his own denial of a compulsive addiction?
I managed to kick my addiction to gambling, a couple of years after I managed to get a handle on my alcoholism. I’ve been in recovery for over 10 years now, and my life is so much easier than it was when I was in the business of lying through my teeth to make it to my next game or shot of scotch. I got lucky, and walked away with a lot of support from my family and friends.
This NFL season, fantasy football began a new venture. It introduced FanDuel and DraftKings with an advertising campaign that would rival the likes of any casino, showcasing that elderly couple who “unexpectedly” won a Cadillac with a $2 bet. The promotion talks about how that easy bet could turn into millions of dollars for the winner. Already both companies have fallen under scrutiny for insider trading with their transactions. Already both companies are under investigation by government agencies across the country who are examining their status as a skill-based game vs. an industry of luck.
This week, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued cease-and-desist orders on the two fantasy football entities for alleged illegal gambling practices. Since the beginning of the football season, these two firms have grown exponentially at the expense of naive or compulsive fantasy players across the country hoping for the easy fix.
The allure might be a little too familiar for some. I haven’t played fantasy football for the simple reason that for me, it would represent gambling. There is no skill involved, as suggested by both firms’ public-relations machines in attempts to defend their business interests.
If you have ever played fantasy football, you certainly know that one of the keys to a successful day is putting the correct team on the field. However, one can also clearly see that picking the right players on any given Sunday is certainly “a gamble.”
I actually become physically sick when the ads come across my TV, not because I am necessarily afraid of buying into a game, but because of the immediate reminder of how quickly I was drawn into the insidious nature of gambling, coupled with the ease of wanting to take that first drink again.
I’m asking sports fans out there to look carefully at what is being dangled before you — a game of chance that moves beyond just having fun and camaraderie to a game that clearly puts a vulnerable person’s financial stability at risk if they are willing to take chances with their impulsivity.
Be careful out there, football fans. In the end, not only will you hate the trade itself, you’ll lose your perspective and your love for the game of football. You’ll be hooked. Don’t bet on any happy endings. Be smart, and just watch the game.
There is hope that legislation across the country will expose the real truth about yet another scam to bilk innocent people out of their income. Let’s hope New York and its attorney general’s actions suggest an affirmation of the truth.
Gambling is a real and treacherous disease. The thrill of the win is far less than the misery of loss.
Thom Amundsen lives in Savage.