Talk to anyone who has worked in an office or is a regular at the neighborhood watering hole, and you’re bound to find more than a few people who have participated in a covert (or sometimes not so covert) sports betting pool. These used to be great fun and a harmless way to score a few extra bucks on a weekly basis.
I’ve partaken in weekly NFL pools, Super Bowl pools, NCAA basketball tourney pools, and my winnings usually went toward indulging in some after-work beers with my colleagues. Oh, the days of innocent fun — how I miss them.
Recreational sports betting has since become a much more serious endeavor, with geeky, Dungeons and Dragons-esque rotisserie baseball league gatherings in basements moving aboveground into places like Dunkin’ Donuts or Panera Bread where mock drafts are staged and all the major sports are included. The process is much more involved than simply picking numbers or teams. You draft fantasy teams that either sink or swim based on individual players’ statistics. Sounds like quite the time suck, doesn’t it? The time investment is only a small part of it; now the stakes are much higher and can win you more than just recreational beer money.
You’d have to be living under a rock if you haven’t seen commercials and print ads for sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, the latest iterations of fantasy sports betting that offer the ability to bet on not only baseball or football, but also college sports, MMA, NASCAR and even golf. Moreover, technology has made this as convenient as everything else: You can place your bets on your favorite mobile device while you wait for your Uber ride or your pizza to be delivered.
DraftKings and FanDuel offer up impossible-to-resist payouts boiled down to three steps and only a daily commitment. Gone are drawn-out “seasons” with endless statistical compilations and nights spent in basements or the establishments mentioned above. You have the ability to win as little as $1,000 or up to $1 million weekly, depending on how much and how often you bet. And, you have more than 20,000 options to bet on.
Before you get too attached to that virtual sports book in your pants pocket, think about a few potential downfalls. First, the simplicity of this technologically advanced system can turn occasional harmless fun into a full-blown addiction. Gambling in all its forms has become so prevalent in the United States that in some places, casinos can be plopped into the middle of strip malls, making it convenient to pick up groceries at the supermarket after feeding some quarters into a slot machine at the casino right next door. And it’s all perfectly legal! One visit to DraftKings’ 100% legal page tells you that it operates in “full compliancy with Federal and State laws.” Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Granted, sites like DraftKings and FanDuel allow you to only bet with what you have. You can blow through however much available cash you have in your bank account with a debit card, or you can max out your credit cards wagering. They don’t have guys named Vito, Joey or Tony employed specifically to charge you vig or break your legs if you can’t pay up. But that doesn’t mean you are devoid of trouble.
A simple Google search turns up story after story about people who have lost their kids’ college funds to online betting, just as people have been prone to do at casinos, card games and with other conventional forms of betting. Conversely, there are those who are of the opinion that there is nothing inherently wrong with online sports betting; it is no different than stock speculation, and there is no reason to get all in a lather about it.
Washington Redskins’ wide receiver Pierre Garcon doesn’t agree. He recently filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, alleging that FanDuel “knowingly and improperly exploits the popularity and performance of Garcon, along with all the other National Football League ('NFL') players at offensive skilled positions without their authority or a valid license …” and “ through a comprehensive television advertising campaign, Defendant FanDuel routinely uses the names and likenesses of some of these NFL players without authorization to promote FanDuel’s commercial enterprise, collecting huge revenues from entry fees.”
Moreover, states like New Jersey are seeking to clamp down on online sports betting by imposing stricter regulations. The fact that it's New Jersey might mean that the bill could be disguised as a cash grab to make up for the fact that Atlantic City has pretty much been rendered a ghost town because of the number of much more conveniently located casinos.
Despite the dangers, online sports betting can be just another distraction, similar to the constant need to check Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites. If you can manage to bet with your head, not over it (remember that one?), it’s harmless fun. But don’t discount the existence of virtual Vitos, Joeys and Tonys. A virtual broken leg can hurt just as much as a real one.
Nava is a freelance writer based in the American Pacific Northwest. She loves to watch and write about hockey because she is also Canadian. During the off-season, Nava loves to cross-border shop, drink gallons of Tim Horton's coffee, and contemplate jumping in her car and driving to Alaska.