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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pete Iorizzo: Fantasy games pave way for sports betting

Pete Iorizzo: Fantasy games pave way for sports betting

Updated 7:34 pm, Saturday, August 6, 2016

If daily fantasy sports isn't gambling, then I'm going to be the starting quarterback for the New York Jets this season.
The bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday makes it legal to win or lose money — or ... you know ... gamble — based on the performance of your imaginary team of real players.
Lawmakers essentially ran an end-around play to elude another state law that makes games of "chance" illegal, instead defining daily fantasy sports as games of "skill."
Please. If you've had your fantasy football season waylaid by a balky hamstring, then you know that even the geekiest stat-heads can't succeed without some good fortune.
To be clear, though, this isn't to argue that daily fantasy sports should be illegal.
Sure, I can think of better things to do with your paycheck than letting it ride on the Arizona Cardinals' kicker and Cleveland Browns' running back. But who am I — and who is the state of New York — to tell you how to spend your money? Some of us collect stamps, some of us have FanDuel accounts. To each his own.
But defining lottery games, daily fantasy sports and horse racing as legal forms of entertainment while prohibiting bets on the Cowboys-Steelers game as a threat to civil society is so blatantly hypocritical that it's not sustainable.
It won't happen overnight, but the real takeaway from the state's thumbs-up to daily fantasy sports should be that we've taken a step closer to fully legalized sports wagering.
The major hurdle remains a 1992 federal law called the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), which bans most forms of sports wagering in all but four states.
That law already has been challenged by New Jersey, where in 2012 Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill legalizing sports betting in the state. That's not to say there is now fully legalized sports betting in New Jersey. The state has lost suits from the four major sports leagues that have argued New Jersey is in violation of the 1992 federal law, though the appeals process continues.
But this is a case in which the court of public opinion could factor significantly. With public pressure and lobbying from the major sports leagues, Congress could change the 1992 law, an outcome that isn't all that far-fetched, several legal experts tell me.
Expanding the right to bet on sports seems to be one of the few issues on which most Americans agree. An estimated 57.4 million people play daily fantasy sports in the United States and Canada, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. And each year an estimated $400 billion is wagered illegally.
Guess what: People like to bet on sports.
And though the major sports leagues vehemently have resisted New Jersey's push to have the federal law struck down, their opposition is much more nuanced than it might appear.
Many professional sports teams now are invested in daily fantasy companies, a sign they're not queasy about getting cozy with wagering. NBA commissioner Adam Silver even wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2014 calling for more widespread legalization. The NHL is putting a team in Las Vegas, and the NFL is talking about doing the same.
Their real opposition to New Jersey's push is that it would legalize sports betting without establishing a federal framework for regulation. Probably, the leagues have their self-interests in mind, too. If we're going to have fully legalized sports gambling, the owners will want a cut.
"It seems there is a lot of hypocrisy in the sports leagues' sustained opposition," says Marc Edelman, a professor of law at Baruch College's Zicklin School of Business. He'll appear Wednesday at the Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing and Gaming Law Conference's panel discussion on sports wagering.
"They seem opposed to traditional sports gambling when they're not in a position to profit directly from the activity, but they're more willing to accept it if they are. ... It seems reasonably likely to believe that at least the four traditional sports leagues would support the repeal of PASPA if sports gambling would lead to direct profit to their owners."
How might that happen? Owners could become shareholders in sports wagering organizations, just as they have made chunky investments in daily fantasy companies.
In New York, repealing PASPA would make it possible for the new casino being built in Schenectady to include a sports book. In fact, it seems inevitable that someday you'll be able to drive down Erie Boulevard to bet the Giants and the over.
The effort to continue banning sports betting seems awfully futile when you consider that so many of us already do.

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