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Fantasy Football: Gambling on the Quarterback Behind the Screen

While only a select few can actually play football on the field, millions more have joined the online world of fantasy football, seeking glory, success, and monetary rewards. Although not technically considered gambling, the betting system and high-stakes value of the game has led many to question its legality. And so, the question: is Fantasy Football gambling?

February 27, 2017

Pro: Not Just A Game of Chance

Many consider football as “America’s favorite pastime”; however, not as many are aware of one of its most prominent and controversial attractions: fantasy football.

   American film and television director Jeff Schaffer once said, “Fantasy football is an amazing American pastime because it takes the ultimate team sport, NFL and football, and turns it into the quest for individual achievement.” In many ways, this statement is true. Impassioned viewers are given the reigns; overzealous “Cheeseheads” and “49ers Faithful” are handed the remote control with regards to players and whether or not they “play” each game. Now despite the apparent attraction towards fantasy football, myriad have time and again tried to eliminate the game as they consider it a form of gambling. Nonetheless, this statement proves that they clearly do not comprehend the skill and analytical abilities required for the game and not required in true gambling.

   By definition, gambling is the action of playing games of chance for money. When one thinks of gambling, one may think of a slew of slot machines in a Las Vegas casino. Or perhaps a game of poker, blackjack, or roulette? Fantasy football does not come to mind. This is because fantasy football requires skill, not luck. To illustrate, if one league is host to a team with players like quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Antonio Brown, this team has an ostensible advantage over a team with players positioned far below these top-ranking athletes. Likewise, if a fantasy football player elects two athletes whose teams each have simultaneous “bye” weeks — weeks during which that specific team does not play — his or her team will undoubtedly suffer. A person who considers fantasy football a game of chance may select two or even three players who share a “bye” week, and his or her points will pale in comparison to those of other teams who strategically compiled a team of players with alternating “bye” weeks and with sufficient back ups for those occasions.

   The Fantasy Sports Trade Association has denied claims that fantasy sports are gambling, taking note of the behavior of fantasy sports participants in contrast to that of sports bettors. The FSTA found in a survey of fantasy football participants that the most common reasons for playing are to compete with friends and to enhance their sports experience. Sports bettors, on the contrary, place bets for the sole purpose of earning money after the game.

   Because it allows fans to take charge of their favorite sport as opposed to coaches doing so; because it allows dedicated viewers to put their skills to use rather than their luck; because it is an environment in which friends and family can pleasantly compete with one another in contrast to a cutthroat arena where complete strangers time and again take one another’s savings, fantasy football should not be glowered at as if it were gambling. Fantasy football should be accepted by sports fanatics and even less experienced sports viewers who merely want to better their knowledge and expertise with the widely extolled game of football.

Con: An Online Gamble

Tom Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl, leaving NFL fans anticipating the league’s return come September. Many students are also eagerly awaiting a different type of entertainment: fantasy football leagues. Fantasy sports leagues have grown exponentially in popularity, and this is evident on our campus for the duration of the professional football season. Players lose or accumulate points based on the performance of their roster (think touchdowns, sacks, interceptions, yards gained), and often pool money with their group as an incentive. For weeks, fantasy participants hide their phones behind binders in class, closely following every move of the draft picks on their respective teams. Emotions fluctuate from devastation to celebration as students watch their fantasy teams crumble or rise to to the top. Fantasy giants and billion-dollar companies like FanDuel and DraftKings market their services as a way to test one’s skill and knowledge of the game, and the tagline is certainly working: as of 2015, an estimated 57.4 million people aged 12 and older played fantasy sports in the US and Canada. The technicalities of the laws surrounding gambling offer a loophole that fantasy leagues have been able to exploit, at the cost of young players who will learn lifelong addictive habits.

In most fantasy football scenarios, there is some kind of prize involved besides the obvious bragging rights — often money. This seems to directly contradict California’s laws governing underage gambling. In its legal forms, such as Native American casinos, gambling is open to Californians who are 18 or older. However, sports betting specifically is not permitted at any physical location in California, leaving a huge legal hole: the Internet. While it’s illegal to own or operate a sportsbook, sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are free to take the business of both adults and impressionable teenagers online. America’s fervor for football feeds this strange contradiction, and legislation will likely be enacted in coming years that exempts fantasy football sites of any legal complications. California failed to pass a daily fantasy sports (DFS) bill in 2016, but there will likely be similar bills coming to our legislators soon; DFS are a potential cash cow for states able to capitalize on regulation.

While state representatives and senators look to take advantage of the monetary aspect of DFS, young adults are being shortchanged. As the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviours notes, around 4-5% of high schoolers are addicted to gambling; another 10-14% are at risk for developing an addiction. DFS seem to be harmless thanks to a widespread following and familiarity, but they set a dangerous precedent for adolescents. With the majority of fantasy football players in their teenage years, the habits they learn in high school will stick with them well into adulthood. The addictive nature of fantasy football, coupled with an inherent social component, makes it feel like a winning combination. But at its core, this form of entertainment offers nothing more than sports betting in a pretty package.


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