John Oliver has full creative reign for his HBO Sunday program “Last Week Tonight,” and he devoted the overwhelming majority of his most recent episode to the controversy surrounding daily fantasy sports (DFS) and its connection to gambling.
The former fill-in for Jon Stewart and correspondent for “The Daily Show,” Oliver’s late-night talk show takes a satirical look at the news from the week that was. On Sunday, no topic was more important in the comedian’s eyes than DFS.
Oliver used 19 of his show’s 30 minutes to rant about the absurdity of DFS operators claiming its products are skill-based entertainment and therefore does not constitute gambling.
“For those who don’t know … until fairly recently, fantasy sports used to be a season-long game where you and your co-workers picked imaginary teams of players, put $20 each in a pot, and eventually lost to Janice in accounting,” Oliver declared.
“In 2006, when Congress passed a law to crack down on online gambling, it exempted fantasy sports … It’s like those lawmakers built a doggy door for a beloved pooch and then daily fantasy came bursting through like a pack of wolves saying, ‘We are dogs. It’s a doggy door, right? That’s for us. We’re legally dogs. Woof.'”
Oliver’s overreaching testimony is that he believes DFS operators like DraftKings and FanDuel constitute gambling, the combining of skill and chance closely resembling poker.
DraftKings’ heavy sponsoring of the World Series of Poker, which the DFS platform discontinued in light of legal challenges, is proof in Oliver’s mind that fantasy contests and gambling are intertwined.
“They’re basically saying, ‘If you love gambling, you’ll love DraftKings…for completely unrelated reasons!'”
During a recent hearing in Pennsylvania to discuss DFS, Poker Players Alliance Executive Director John Pappas testified before the state’s House Gaming Oversight Committee that “both are forms of entertainment for the vast majority of people.”
“Poker and DFS are both interactive games with a high degree of skill, which fosters critical thinking,” Pappas stated. “For most players, DFS is a low-stakes affair that allows people to derive more enjoyment from sporting events.”
The low stakes also provide high odds of players losing their entry fee. A recent study found that the top 1.3 percent of DFS bettors account for 91 percent of the total winnings.
“It’s not what it pretends to be,” researcher Ed Miller told the Wall Street Journal.
The ease of winning fantasy contests as marketed by FanDuel and DraftKings has been heavily criticized by media pundits and legal authorities. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote that the “advertisements seriously misled” in his determining the contests to be unlawful.
Colossus Bets CEO Bernard Marantelli also believes the market is severely overvalued.
“FanDuel and DraftKings are either worth $2 billion or $0, depending on which day you read the paper,” Marantelli said during a gambling convention in London this week. “In reality, they’re probably closer to $0.”
Oliver wrapped up his sermon by saying, “By any rational definition, daily fantasy is gambling, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if we’re going to de facto legalize sports gambling across the US, we should at least do it on purpose and not because two companies have somehow weaseled out a way to pretend they are not something that they clearly are.”