Websites such as DraftKings are booming but are they showcases for skill or merely spruced up gambling tournaments?
A concourse under Philadelphia City Hall was recently plastered with ads featuring Peter Jennings. The Peter Jennings in the ads wasn’t the late news anchor who hosted ABC World News Tonight but a former stock trader from Fort Collins, Colorado. That Peter Jennings won big in the DraftKings daily fantasy baseball extravaganza in the Bahamas last August. Jennings, with a broad smile on his face, holds a giant novelty check for $1m above his head.
What’s interesting about the slew of ads under the City Hall is the co-sponsor: The Philadelphia Phillies. DraftKings, founded in 2011, is the “official daily fantasy partner of Major League Baseball”. FanDuel, the other major site for daily fantasy sports, has a strategic partnership with the NBA. As part of that deal, which gave the NBA an equity stake in FanDuel, the league promotes FanDuel’s daily contests on NBA.com, NBA TV and its other digital properties.
Two American major league sports franchises are advertising extensively to what many say are essentially gambling sites. Due to the 1991 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, sports gambling (other than horse racing) in America is legal in just four states: Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only state that offers unfettered sports wagering. So how are daily fantasy sports legal? And how did major American professional sports leagues – which have traditionally had anti-gambling stances – become partners in promoting these sites? It’s complicated.
The rules of daily fantasy sports are similar to regular fantasy sports leagues. In a “season-long” fantasy league, owners — usually 8 to 14 people — acquire players in a draft or auction and manage them throughout the year. They can pick up and drop players, make trades and set lineups on a week or week or day to day basis (depending on the sport or the league).
While many early proto-fantasy leagues existed — William Gamson had one in the 1960s, New Jersey teacher Joe Blandino began one in 1976, a group of fans in the Oakland area had a football league in the early 60s – the spread of fantasy sports dates to Daniel Okrent’s Rotisserie League in 1980. Taught the game by a disciple of Gamson, Okrent and his friends founded a league at La Rotisserie Francaise in New York City. Media members learned of the league through Okrent, an editor and writer, and wrote about it during the 1981 baseball players’ strike, helping spread the word for the format.