American Schizoid

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There’s a lot of handwringing going on right now about the scandal that has rocked the daily fantasy sports business. For those of you who haven’t been following it, an employee of DraftKings named Ethan Haskell used insider information to help him win $350,000 on a rival site, FanDuel, this weekend. Not surprisingly, there’s a media shitstorm surrounding the scandal, because this has been the year that Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS, as it’s shorthanded) really exploded, making its way fully into the mainstream of American culture and consciousness. You can’t tune a radio or television into a game anymore without hearing an ad for either DraftKings or FanDuel, the two biggest sites. And the industry has gone as legit as you can get, making partnership and sponsorship deals with the NFL, MLB and the NBA, among the major sports leagues.

I find it amusing and something of a head scratcher that people are getting so upset by the news that there’s cheating happening. On the surface, they’re griping about the scandal, but underlying that is how the scandal has highlighted what DFS is actually all about: namely, that people are betting on a game. They’re gambling. Well blow me down with a fucking feather. I mean, I’m shocked—shocked—to find out that there is gambling going on in this gambling establishment. Not to be glib about it, but this is America. We live in an economy built on gambling. Oh, sure, the degens on Wall Street wear suits and go to Ivy League colleges and business school and use terms like derivatives and short sell instead of favorites and longshots. But don’t let that fool you. They’re in the gambling business as sure as the night is dark. Because Americans love gambling. Just like they love socialism. Only you’re not allowed to call it what it is. If you do, they tell you it’s immoral and unAmerican. Just listen to the Christian right and the holy rollers.

Below are a couple of typical comments accompanying Joe Drape’s Times’ piece on the scandal.

mediapizza

New York 4 hours ago

Gambling is one of the worst plagues of our society, because it hurts so many people other than the gambler themselves.

The Rabbi

Philadelphia 4 hours ago

This is gambling and the game has now been proven to be rigged. If our government doesn’t step in and shut these sites down immediately then our government is in on the take.

I kind of wonder who mediapizza is referring to when he says that gambling hurts so many people other than the gambler, himself? Was he thinking of the gambler’s nearest and dearest? Or the American public that had to pick up the check when Wall Street banks gambled and lost? And what of The Rabbi, who is adamant that if the government doesn’t step in and shut down these sites immediately then they must be in cahoots with them? Was he equally critical of the government’s handling of Goldman, Sachs and Citigroup?

Look, here’s the deal: gambling in this country, whether you want to call it gambling or something else, is at the root of what it means to be American. We’re a country born out of a huge gamble taken by a bunch of Puritans who sailed across the ocean to make a new life in a strange and barren land. If that wasn’t a gamble, I don’t know what is. Just don’t call it gamble to their no-fun faces. It’s immoral and they would object. Really.

Are Daily Fantasy Sports any different than any other form of gambling that takes place in this country? It’s certainly no different than online poker. The difference is, they found a loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act that allowed them to set up shop and not call it gambling. But we all know what it is. Is there cheating going on? Undoubtedly. Whenever there’s big money involved, some clever mofo is going to find a way to game the system. That’s American too. Just ask Donald Trump.

There are all kinds of different cheating that goes on in this world. Some is black and white—as in the case of Bernie Madoff. Some is gray–as in most of it. When asked how much vig they were taking out of the prize pool of a million dollar tournament, a DraftKings spokesperson said, “about ten percent.” But was it actually eleven percent? Or twelve? Why, in fact, don’t we know the actual number?

From a gambler’s perspective, that’s something I’d really call immoral.

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About Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.
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One Response to American Schizoid

  1. Nolan Dalla says:

    I’m jealous. I fear how good you’re going to be once you get on a roll. Please stop it. You are forcing other gambling writers to have to step up their/our game. Well done.

    Like

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