Nautilus

Are Fantasy Sports Really Gambling?

Early one Saturday morning in Las Vegas, I sat down at a Texas Hold ‘em poker table with seven or eight other men, all middle-aged. Being 30 at the time, I was the youngest player by about a decade. A couple of them were wearing Hawaiian shirts. It was too early for drinking, but one or two guys puffed on cigarettes as the cards were dealt. The buy-in was $75, far more than I’d ever paid for a poker game.

I played in a regular poker game in New York City, and I was feeling good about my abilities. I decided to use a conservative strategy to extend my time on the table: Only stay in a hand when I have cards worth playing. In retrospect, I was probably primed to be taken down a notch or two.

My plan quickly proved worthless. The luck of the cards wasn’t with me. My best hand was maybe a Jack High. Worse, the others at the table were betting aggressively and bluffing masterfully. Well, I assumed they were bluffing. I think I actually saw a player’s winning cards only once. I swiftly suffered the fate of fools with money. My opponents cleaned me out in five or six rounds. Poof! My 75 bucks were gone.

I gained very little from that experience—both financially and as a way to pass time. But I did learn one thing: I would have been better off if the game had involved less skill and more chance.

Coincidentally, laws in the United States tend to have the opposite opinion, and favor skill over chance. They regulate games of chance differently (and more strictly) than games of skill, and regard the former as gambling. Of course, both chance and skill play a role in nearly every contest, from poker to pingpong. But in the eyes of the law, it is more acceptable to participate in a game of skill, where those with knowledge, experience, or talent are more likely to prevail, than in a game of chance, where all players have the same odds.

In 2006, the U.S. Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), which prohibited gambling enterprises from processing payments online from U.S. credit cards and banks. That law effectively crippled the sizeable online poker industry

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