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Betting On The Ballgame: Fantasy Sports And Gambling


Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released an opinion stating that daily fantasy sports betting is illegal in the state and drew the ire of many local enthusiasts. 

Not familiar with daily fantasy sports? Here’s what you need to know. 

Fifteen years ago, fantasy sports were more-or-less just a friendly office pastime. Coworkers and small groups of friends would build dream teams and track their players’ success, perhaps each throwing in a few dollars to play. The winner at the end of the season might win the pot—or at least some bragging rights.

In 2006, things quickly changed, and a professional industry was born. Congress attempted to reduce the amount of online gambling in 2006, when it passed a bill that prohibited web-based payments for illegal bets. However, an exemption created a loophole for these fantasy sports companies to create leagues that straddle the line between entertainment and unregulated gambling.

People are now betting on a weekly and even daily basis, running multiple games at once, and reaping the gains (and suffering the losses!) of what was once a season-long competition.

And make no mistake: there is a lot of money at stake here. Many of the “sharks” who dominate the daily fantasy sports game are playing hundreds of games a day and betting serious cash on each. One of these sharks is Bryce Mauro, a university junior who considers this his job. Mauro is one of the young men featured in the upcoming documentary The Fantasy Sports, a co-production of The New York Times and "Frontline."

Earlier this week, Krys Boyd spoke with Walt Bogdanich, a New York Times reporter who investigated for the documentary.

“There’s nothing that will hurt the industry more than calling it gambling,” Bogdanich told Boyd. “They have operated under this illusion that what they’re offering is not gambling. They got the blessing of this federal law that basically said that, but in fact, lots of individual states are in charge of saying what’s gambling and what’s not. If it were gambling, they would have to be regulated.” 

While these bets can make fans care about games that they ordinarily wouldn’t, they also add in components of adrenaline and instant gratification that can be dangerous.

The CFO of FanDuel (one of the largest daily fantasy sports sites) says that 50 to 60 percent of his site’s players are under the age of 30.  This is significant, Bogdanich says, because younger men are most at risk for developing gambling addictions.

Still, daily fantasy sports companies insist that their product isn’t a venue for gambling, but purely entertainment. So which is it: entertainment product or illegal gambling? Listen to Think and decide for yourself. "The Fantasy Sports Gamble" aired Feb. 9 on KERA-TV

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