It’s just the first quarter in the matchup between Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and fantasy sports powerhouses FanDuel and DraftKings that seeks to answer this question: Are daily fantasy sports legal in New York?
But for those who help problem gamblers, the legal debate is beside the point. No matter the legal status, they’re already seeing people who need help because they’ve lost control to the game.
“The same characteristics that you see from other forms of gamblers are the same you see in fantasy gamblers,” said Jim Maney, executive director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling. “There’s no difference. You can call it whatever you want. Online poker is illegal, but people who play online poker who have difficulties are no different from the folks who have difficulties playing bingo or playing the horses or going to the casino or playing the lottery.”
Maney and others have been pushing for years for a more comprehensive strategy in New York for helping those who can’t control their gambling. They got a big win when the state required new casinos to set aside money for treatment and prevention of problem gambling.
But just as the state is finally poised to have a dedicated funding stream to help problem gamblers, the Internet has brought a whole new way to wager to living rooms, turning the cherished tradition of fantasy leagues into just another get-rich-quick promise.
And tens of millions of dollars have gone into daily fantasy sports ads to make sure fans know about it.
It can make dealing with gambling addictions feel like playing Whac-A-Mole. Create a prevention program for one type of problem gambling, and an entire new industry pops up to give people new opportunities to place bets.
There’s no question in Maney’s mind that daily fantasy sports is gambling. The websites exist in a legal loophole that carved out an exemption for daily fantasy when the federal government made online poker and other Internet gambling illegal.
But the daily fantasy sports sites – which advertise big payouts on quick games – took the fantasy leagues to a new level. The daily sites aren’t about creating a seasonlong league with buddies. They’re about placing short-term bets that can hinge on one game.
“This is obviously the fastest-forming, risky behavior that we see of all the gambling right now,” Maney said.
At one point, the New York Times reported, daily fantasy sports sites were running ads on national networks every 90 seconds.
What worried Maney was there was no countermessage letting people know how to get help if they couldn’t play responsibly.
“Legal or not, we just know that folks who are gambling on this are having some difficulties, and more and more people have more difficulties because of the amount of advertising that’s going to this,” Maney said.
The court battle over FanDuel and DraftKings is likely to drag on well after the football season has ended. Meanwhile, lawmakers need to hear this message: Legal or not, daily fantasy sports have put some who are vulnerable to gambling addiction at risk.
New York is headed in the right direction with dedicated funding to create a comprehensive strategy for helping problem gamblers. But this latest debate shows we’re still well short of the goal line.