False promises in fantasy sports gambling

 New York’s lawsuit against DraftKings and FanDuel forces the companies to admit how few people win in wagering on fantasy sports – contradicting their previous claims of winning.

AP Photo
Workers set up a DraftKings promotions tent at Gillette Stadium, in Foxborough, Mass., before an NFL football game in October between the New England Patriots and New York Jets. New York's attorney general on Nov. 10 ordered the daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel to stop accepting bets in the state, saying their operations amount to illegal gambling.

People who play fantasy sports, by selecting a make-believe team of real players from different teams, know they are dealing in fantasy. The teams don’t exist. But they might be hard-pressed to know what is real if they also place bets on their made-up teams on websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.

The two online sites have made bold promises of winning. “Just pick your sport, pick your players, and pick up your cash!” stated one DraftKings ad. A FanDuel ad claimed, “Anybody can play, anybody can succeed.”

Now these claims are being challenged in a New York courtroom – and by the companies themselves.

In a lawsuit seeking to close down the sites’ operations in the state, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says that placing money on fantasy sports is really gambling, as each wager relies on a “future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence.” Yet the two companies argue that the wagers depend mainly on skill, such as knowing each player’s talents and record, rather than on chance. As proof, however, they point out how few people actually make money. (More than 85 percent of players using the site fail to win.) In making such a case, they have exposed their own advertising deceit and support the state’s charge that the ads create a false perception that betting on fantasy sports “is eminently winnable.”

Casinos and state lotteries long ago learned not to advertise a guarantee of winning. The gaming industry relies on an illusion of luck but the business itself must operate on the reality of integrity and truthfulness in advertising. Few gambling operations would dare run an ad like this one for DraftKings: “This is the feeling of turning a game you love into a lifetime of cash.”

The two websites face other lawsuits in court, some brought by people who cite the deceptive advertising. And New Jersey’s two senators have asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the sites’ relationship with professional sports leagues.

The FTC requires that any ads clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect. Gambling companies that rely on customers trying to win money from either the spin of a roulette wheel or the bounce of a football should not rely on ads full of illusions. 

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