Jac VerSteeg: Fantasy sports aren’t gambling? How amusing


Sen. Joe Negron’s SB 832 declares that “fantasy contests” — meaning endeavors such as DraftKings and FanDuel — “involve the skill of contest participants and do not constitute gambling, gaming or games of chance.”

Negron, R-Stuart and a Senate-president-to-be, would regulate this non-gambling via a newly created Office of Amusement.

It’s not “gambling,” it’s an “amusement.” Which is amusing, given that Florida’s most established amusements are the amusement parks in Orlando and Tampa. They have bitterly opposed the expansion of gambling in Florida — though virtual gambling would bother them less than the destination resort gambling that would physically compete for tourists’ attention.

The Office of Amusements would not regulate amusements such as Disney World, Sea World and Busch Gardens. People who indulge in those amusements are not gambling; they are guaranteed to lose money.

At least with fantasy sports there is a chance you will come away with more money than you started with. In contrast, the odds are 100 percent stacked in favor of the Mouse House.

I don’t have any objections to people betting on “fantasy sports.” Neither do I object to state regulation. In fact, I think it’s necessary. But the attempt to portray the activity as an amusement rather than gambling is pretty suspect.

Fantasy sports is not gambling, according to the bill, because it involves “the skill of contest participants.” Well, the last time I was at the horse track, there were people there handicapping the horses and placing wagers accordingly. That’s a skill, is it not?

And the last time I got fleeced playing poker, I was the victim of a player whose skill exceeded my own. Blackjack, I believe, involves skill. Even craps involves some strategy in which a player can calculate a bet with higher or lower odds. Yes, there is some luck involved in card games, too, just as there is in horse racing and dice.

Just as there is in “amusements” where players pick fantasy teams.

As I understand it, FanDuel and its ilk are desperate to be freed from the “gambling” label because various statutes forbid Internet gambling. In Florida, there is an extra wrinkle. The proposed compact with the Seminoles says that if Florida ever permits Internet gambling, the Seminole Tribe will be allowed to have those games too. (Imagine the Seminoles taking Internet bets on a game between the Redskins and Chiefs.) It’s a quagmire Florida is eager to avoid — and rightfully so.

But the pretense that fantasy sports are different from poker or horse racing is just that — a pretense.

The Legislature already is struggling with how — and whether — to strike a new arrangement with the Seminoles. Gov. Rick Scott’s team negotiated a $3 billion deal that, along with a bunch of side deals, would give the tribe exclusivity for craps and roulette while attempting to create a semblance of “parity” for existing racinos in Broward and Miami-Dade — and a new one in Palm Beach County.

The Legislature’s discussion of parity is amusing — there’s that word again — because it really is a discussion about how to give further advantages to people and institutions that already enjoy advantages.

The Palm Beach Kennel Club would get slots machines. The racinos, which already have slots, would get a lower tax rate. Miami-Dade would get a new casino, the license for which is widely expected to go to Genting, which already has a site (the old Miami Herald headquarters) and the inside track politically.

However, “parity” absolutely does not apply to casino or racino customers. Even in those alleged games of skill like poker, blackjack and horse handicapping, the odds are stacked in favor of the house. There are more losers than winners. Customers don’t have “parity.” They don’t have an equal chance to win.

The absence of skill is total for games of pure chance, like slot machines or, for that matter, the Florida Lottery. The only “skill” involved, I suppose, is sticking to your vow to quit when you are up or down by a certain amount.

One game of chance that provides parity for the house and for gamblers is a simple coin toss. In that game, the gamble is the same each and every time — both players have a 50-50 chance of winning. Good luck finding a gambling establishment willing to accept those odds.

As Florida gropes toward a gambling solution, just remember that “parity” is an illusion. Either the Seminoles will maintain exclusivity in key games, or they will stop paying taxes — legally. They win either way.

Meanwhile fantasy sports, if Negron’s bill continues its success, will have a Legislature-invented advantage over other forms of skill-based gambling.

And all of the racinos, race tracks, casinos and fantasy outfits will have an advantage over the folks who plunk down their money and lose most of it. The gambling and fantasy outfits don’t need skill. They’ve got the odds on their side.

Any thought you could beat them over the long haul is…amusing.


Jac Wilder VerSteeg is a columnist for The South Florida Sun Sentinel, former deputy editorial page editor for The Palm Beach Post and former editor of Context Florida. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Jac VerSteeg


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