Fantasy football has exploded in the past decade, but daily fantasy sports, led mainly by two giants, FanDuel and DraftKings, allow fans to create lineups for only one week and have recently added a whole other twist to fantasy football gaming. Both daily fantasy sports (DFS) websites are valued at over $1 billion, are backed by prominent investors like Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones, the MLB, the NBA, FOX, and NBC, and spend millions of dollars for thousands of TV spots every week during the NFL season. Never before have DFS websites been this popular, profitable, powerful, and omnipresent: all traits that could draw political and electoral attention. So far, this newly-minted industry has easily dodged allegations of gambling and has skirted passed regulation efforts. But the tide seems to be changing. Nevada recently shut down DFS operations in the state, insisting that the websites are examples of illegal gambling, not the games of skill they and the federal government claim they are. Additionally, New Jersey Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone has called for congressional oversight and investigations into claims of insider trading in the DFS industry, calls that have been answered by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI). Upton has said a hearing will likely be scheduled for next year, which, of course, happens to be an election year. As FanDuel, Draft Kings, and their smaller competitors fight for market share within their industry and as this struggle is dragged more into the national spotlight, presidential candidates may now be forced to comment and take a stance on the issue, opening opportunities to intelligently further their ideals.
For Democrats, at this issue’s heart lies many core similarities to the same struggles big businesses create that many left-wing candidates have decried. Democratic candidates, if so prodded, would likely come out on the offensive regarding this matter, condemning the skirting of gambling laws, usage of excessive lobbying efforts, a lack of oversight, and an attitude of irresponsibility towards addiction treatment. Much of the DFS industry’s fight is centered on issues that Democrats have typically fought against, and thus their candidates will likely be less reticent to attack these large websites. It is not exactly a stretch of the imagination to picture Bernie Sanders decrying large, unregulated corporations that are evading accusations of illegal gambling. Still, Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley, both wanting to reach out to the far left side of the party and support the middle class, would probably throw their opposition to DFS into the ring. All Democrats are certainly not the same, so, like the fights regarding climate change or Wall Street, some Democrats would favor some forms of regulation, a scaling-back, investigations, and so forth, and some Democrats would probably call for some unilateral dismantling of the websites. However, Democrats as a whole, not wanting to be rash or overzealous are certainly unlikely to denounce the industry writ large.
Republicans, on the other hand, are probably going to be more reluctant to enter the fight at all, wary of seeming hypocritical and coming out against big business, entrepreneurship, and the NFL, whose fans are more likely to vote Republican than other sports fans. What is much more likely to happen is that the Republican candidates make this a states’ rights issue and kick the can down the road. DFS websites are legal in over 40 states, and federal guidelines provide no clarity as to what is or is not gambling. In fact, during the last Republican debate, a question was posed to Jeb Bush regarding the DFS industry. Bush replied candidly, but called for some form of regulation, though he made sure to qualify his statements by saying, “I have no clue whether the federal government is the proper place… my instinct is to say, hell no…” essentially leaving these problems to the states. However, Chris Christie jumped into the conversation, questioning why this topic was up for debate at all. He belittles the issue by saying, “[A]re we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? We have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop?…Let people play, who cares?” Christie certainly does not want to appear anti-sports by even questioning games surrounding football and scoffs at the idea of government getting involved whatsoever. This kind of stagnation between “Is there a problem for government?” and “Whose job is it anyway?” will not lead to any signs of progress from the Republican camp, but if the issue comes up, like it did during the debate, repeatedly, candidates may have to act shrewdly to keep up their pro-business narratives.
Shrewd campaigners, instead of kicking the can down the road and chalking up this issue to states’ rights, could find a way to spin this issue into whatever narrative they choose as a way to gain an advantage over their opponents.
However, Democrats might also want to make this a states’ rights issue. If civil suits garner enough media attention and Representative Pallone is able to force this issue into the political agenda, candidates will be questioned about the legality and the future of these websites. This kind of national attention would be enough to force politicians to react, with Democrats coming out against DFS and for regulation, eager to protect those against the wills of big business, and with Republicans coming out for it, eager to look pro-business.
But this dialogue will only further enhance partisan lines, forcing candidates away from discourse and compromise and disillusioning voters that politics is broken. In order for this issue to gain traction within the populace and to be used intelligently, a skilled politician could spin the issue as one of business management. Toeing the line between job creation and corruption in big business and between harmless fun and dangerous addiction could either propel candidates into a situation of fighting for the little guys, fighting for the economy, or dismantling “Sunday Funday.” Both parties could use this issue to their advantage. Clinton, who recently published an op-ed about how fighting for the consumer is still pro-business, could use this as an example of how she as president would protect the everyday American. Rubio, for instance, could capitalize on this issue by showing how a little extra fun on Sundays while watching football is actually as American as capitalism and entrepreneurship, showing that unregulated business can thrive and help the economy.
Shrewd campaigners, instead of kicking the can down the road and chalking up this issue to states’ rights, could find a way to spin this issue into whatever narrative they choose as a way to gain an advantage over their opponents. Is the DFS industry a neo-vestige of laissez faire thinking, worthy of tackling like Teddy Roosevelt did, or perhaps is the industry a new example of American innovation, showing us how great unfettered business can be in this country? Either way, the issue could easily be part of the presidential campaign season, so politicians would do best to address it and to use it to their advantage.