“Are we really talking about 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?” Chris Christie, at a Republican presidential debate, as quoted in the Washington Post, October 29, 2015.

Christie had a point, even though as Governor of New Jersey he has made efforts to allow sports betting in the state’s casinos.

This brings us to New York State, or more specifically the 61st Senate District in Western New York, which is represented by Michael Ranzenhofer. Mike has introduced legislation that would make fantasy sports, on a mega scale, a “game of skill.” Mostly we are talking about fantasy football. Mike says that fantasy football is a “game of skill,” not a “game of chance.” More on that in a moment.

I have known Mike for a number of years. He is a gentleman and a genuine nice guy. He has been in elective office for 26 years, serving 19 years in the Erie County Legislature and seven years in the State Senate. His Senate district stretches from Amherst to Rochester.

Mike’s biography takes pride in his record of opposing tax increases. As a minority party caucus member of the Erie County Legislature in the 1990’s he found it easy to oppose tax increases proposed by Democratic County Executive Dennis Gorski. He also supported Joel Giambra’s massive tax cuts in the early part of this century. Those didn’t work out so well.

My guess, though, if you asked anyone about Mike’s major accomplishments in public office, they would tell you about the law he introduced and saw approved last year that designated yogurt as New York State’s official snack. It brought him national attention.

Now he is pushing to legalize fantasy football. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last week was able to, at least temporarily, shut down organized fantasy football in the state, arguing that the sites that operate these activities are a form of gambling rather than a “game of skill.” FanDuel has temporarily suspended transactions with people in New York State while Schniederman’s case is being considered.

Our state constitution strictly controls what gambling can be conducted legally in the state. That is why we needed a constitutional amendment a couple years ago to authorize casinos that were not operated on lands owned by Native Americans.

In England these fantasy sites are regulated as a form of gambling. In the State of Nevada, where they know a thing or two about what gambling is, these fantasy sites have been shut down for residents of the state until the sites secure a state gaming license. If they get a gambling license in Nevada they will basically be fessing up to what they are really doing.

Anyone who has watched a pro football game on TV this season has seen ads for DraftKing and FanDuel. Reportedly they are spending $100 million on the ads. DraftKing seems to have backed off recently after their insider trading scandal.

The whole fantasy “game of skill” stuff seems so hypocritical for the National Football League and other sports leagues, who profess that they work to prevent any gambling influences on their sports. FanDuel claims to pay out $75 million a week in winnings, which means their handle is even larger to allow for the company’s expenses and profit. The NFL has always had a problem looking the other way when dollar numbers get into seven, eight, nine, ten figures. Just wondering, if these sites are a game of skill, would the NFL be ok with their players participating?

If you can read the small print that flashes briefly at the bottom of the screen on these ads you know that they are telling you that what they do is not gambling; that it is allowed by federal law; that the average investment is about $6 and the average winning is about $22; that in several states you cannot play because they don’t allow contests requiring an entry fee. On pictures and in words on the screen, however, they show you million dollar winners and others who have won tens of thousands of dollars.

In years long gone by I recall seeing little white pieces of paper that listed the upcoming football games. A person could pick one or more teams that they expected to win that week. In choosing their teams a participant most likely weighed the factors for each team – home or away; what will the weather be; is the quarterback hurt; how good is their place kicker; is the coach a good strategist; etc., etc., etc. So it would take some “skill” to make their selection of teams. After those selections were made, however, they didn’t go to OTB or to DraftKing. Those little white slips of paper went (go?) to someone who collected money with them. If your “skill” led to the right results, you got paid money.

So tell me, what is the difference between FanDuel and those little white slips of paper except a claim of legality and that you can win a lot more with FanDuel?

The New York Times reported on May 6, 2014 on the debate that occurred the previous day on the floor of the State Senate about Ranzenhofer’s yogurt bill. “[Senator Liz] Krueger suggested the state should more thoroughly seek to gauge the snack sentiments of its residents. Mr. Ranzenhofer said elected officials need to show leadership.”

As one of your constituents, Mike, I sincerely suggest that you show leadership by working and focusing more on the state’s debt; filing and actively pursuing legislation to improve educational opportunities for our children; filing and pursuing legislation to improve public safety, etc. I bet most of your constituents would agree.

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