Former online poker players have seen this story play out before. They witnessed the boom of poker. They enjoyed the proliferation of the game into mainstream media. Mike Sexton became a household name for many. Advertising for sites like PokerStars and PartyPoker were inundating the airwaves. ESPN and NBC couldn’t get enough poker programming. World Series of Poker. Poker After Dark. Online players were in heaven. Online poker sites that once would be lucky to have 1,000 players online at any given time now had over 200,000– many of them “fish,” a term used to describe bad players. Money was changing hands. People were having fun. No one was being hurt. Right?
Wrong, said the United States government. On April 15, 2011 — a day known as “Black Friday” among the online poker community — the United States government shut down the three big online poker sites. PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker, and Absolute Poker were closed for business to all American players. Poof! Just like that. Money in players’ accounts was frozen and seized. Some, eventually, got their money back. Some are still waiting.
So what is happening to daily fantasy sites like FanDuel and DraftKings comes as no surprise to former online poker players. It’s the same pattern. These sites gain popularity. They generate a lot of money. They cause a lot of buzz. Advertising is annoyingly saturating the airwaves. There has been the scandal questioning the integrity of the game. The government has begun to take notice. The government, especially, notices they aren’t getting their piece of the action. The government calls daily fantasy sports betting “gambling.” The accused sites argue that fantasy sports is a “game of skill” and not “gambling.” The government goes after the payment processors for the various sites.
Those who played online poker for a living know how this is going to end. The government will, eventually, shut down daily fantasy sports betting just like it did to online poker wagering.
The legal wrangling has already begun in one state. The New York State Attorney General sent out cease and desist letters a week ago to FanDuel and DraftKings. Basically, the New York A.G. is banning fantasy sports betting by New York residents. The two fantasy sports sites have chosen to ignore the injunction and elected to continue to take bets from New York residents. FanDuel and DraftKings are suing the New York Attorney General.
It was only a matter of time. Any online poker player who has visited DraftKings will find an eery familiarity between the lobby area of the online fantasy sports site and their old favorite online poker websites. There are the various buy-ins, ranging from free, to a single dollar, to as much as several hundreds of dollars. And you can play as many times as you want. You can play against how many ever opponents you want. You want to play in a tournament against thousands of others with the chance for a huge payout? Or do you want to just “grind” out a steady profit? You could play single “games” against only fifty people, twenty, or nine– how many ever you want. How about head-to-head with just one other opponent? You could even create your own tournaments with as many, or as few, players as you like.
The online poker player is very familiar with these game setups. And they must sit and wonder how these sites have gotten away with this as long as they have. Poker is just as much a game of skill as betting on fantasy sports. A poker player can calculate the odds of a certain card hitting the table as much as any fantasy sports bettor can calculate the odds of a certain hitter getting a base hit against a certain pitcher.
The bottom line is the government will always want a piece of the action. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because as popular as online poker may have been (and it was enormously popular), fantasy football is even bigger and more mainstream. Not everyone may know how to play poker, but nearly everyone watches football. The public outcry will be huge if fantasy sports betting is deemed illegal.
Enjoy it while it lasts, friends. Just a word of advice– Don’t keep too much money on the sites.