Daniel Okrent, a writer for the New York Times, came up with the idea of Fantasy Baseball in 1980 (named Rotisserie League Baseball after the restaurant where he conducted the drafts.) He and his friends would each cough up $250, choose a group of players as their “team” and the overall winner kept half the pot. At the time, he was also writing a book (“Nine Innings“) about a single baseball game between Milwaukee (then in the AL) and Baltimore that required extensive access to players, officials and the clubhouse. Worried that his fantasy sports would be perceived as “gambling”, he restricted drafts to National League players only, making the Brewers and Orioles irrelevant and calming the fears of the baseball gurus. (“A guy I came to know in the American League president’s office said it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Okrent said to a reporter. “You know the moralism they’ve always brought to the very idea of gambling.”)
The folks at the top of baseball must not be as concerned these days. Draft Kings is “The Official Daily Fantasy Baseball Game of MLB” (MLB is a part owner of Draft Kings as well). I guess money can calm a lot of fears. Between Draft Kings and Fan Duel, experts estimate they spent about $30 million dollars in advertising… LAST WEEK.
I’ve got no problems with gambling or fantasy sports. I have put a few dollars down on a game in Vegas. And as a radio personality I have been approached about being a “spokesperson” for a daily fantasy sports game (and might take them up on it). It is the total hypocrisy of the powers that be that fascinates me. MLB is a party to the lawsuit to stop New Jersey from making sports betting legal. (Rob Manfred has made some recent comments in support of a “federal system to regulate” legal gambling but hasn’t dropped the suit yet.) But it seems once the cash comes out, “moralism” is no longer a concern. Perhaps Chris Christie should have gotten his checkbook out – Atlantic City could have been “The Official Sports Book of MLB.”

True, fantasy sports is technically legal according to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 as a game of skill.. and betting on the outcome of an individual game is not. Let’s compare:

In Draft Kings, I give them money, choose a group of players and based on how those players perform, Draft Kings gives me more money or keeps mine.

But a gambler, like say Pete Rose, goes to a bookie or sports book, gives them money, chooses a team and based on how the group of players on that team perform, the gambler gets more money or loses his.

Oh yeah, sure, I see it. There is a “skill” in choosing the group of players, and no “skill” in just picking a team.

And that skill is mastered by very few people. These games are won by research driven full time players. According to recent reports, 91% of the money in fantasy sports is won by 1.3% of the participants. Even the guy who invented this whole thing has never won his own league. Joe Average doesn’t have a chance – what’s that old saying – “When you sit down at the table and can’t figure out who the sucker is.. it’s YOU!”

Gambling is accepted legal behavior in almost every state in the US today. Between horse racing, casinos and lottery tickets there are plenty of ways to lose your money. Gambling on sports, whether it’s a fantasy team or a three game parlay, gives the average person some skin in the game and makes viewing a little more exciting. The current foray into daily fantasy sports shows that MLB knows all of this and wants their cut. They should just be more honest about it.

This is my last column of the season for Redleg Nation. I hope to continue writing over the off season about the Reds, baseball and media and even come back next year if invited. I have had a ton of fun interacting with the readers of this blog. It’s been an interesting year (my fellow blogger John Ring described it as an “unmitigated disaster”) :

Lowlights of 2015 – the obvious (including the dumpster fire game Saturday where I got to be in the stands and watch the Mets clinch. Announced attendance over 32 thousand, most of them dressed up as empty seats)

Highlights – The Toddfather becoming Home Run Derby King (and the new format), Labor Day Weekend in the Champions Club with the Redleg Nation crew and discovering “The Corner” in Cleveland (an idea I wish the Reds would embrace)

Have a great off season. And I leave you with the words of a true Cincinnati sports fan – “WHO DEY!”