Is daily fantasy sports gambling, and does Canada even care?
For the last few years, the issue of whether daily fantasy sports constitutes gambling has been a hot topic below the 49th parallel. But in Canada, federal and provincial governments don’t seem too concerned about it. In fact, they’ve barely even touched the topic.
Mark Johnson, a visiting research fellow and postdoctoral at the University of Alberta, thinks the topic deserves more attention. He recently delivered a public lecture on daily fantasy sports (DFS) and eSports, called Blurring the Boundaries between Video Games and Gambling: China, the West, and the Future of Commercialised Play.
In his lecture, he notes the amalgamation of wagering, video games and fantasy team management, and the way it’s “reshaping our understanding of online real-money gameplay”. The real question Johnson wants to answer is whether DFS and eSports are forms of chance-based gambling, akin to slot machines, or genuine games of skill, like poker.
Johnson happens to be a former professional poker player himself. In his opinion, DFS is very similar to a poker game, therefore should be labeled a ‘game of skill‘. He called it a “new phenomenon at the play-money intersection”.
Daily Fantasy Sports Gambling
Whether some governments call it gambling or not, DFS is a real-money game in which players act as team managers. They draft a fantasy team of players from a specific sport. They then pay a fee to have their team compete against other DFS team managers. The drafted players rack up points based on their statistics in real-world athletic competitions, and the teams with the most points share in the prize pool.
Several US states have written DFS into their law books. Some of them chose to outlaw the ‘gambling’ activity, while others have regulated it, requiring DFS operators to obtain a license to access their resident player base. In New York, DFS was declared a game of skill, and was then regulated and licensed by the state.
Daily Fantasy Sports Canada
Despite the numerous legislative shifts that have occurred in the US in the past few years, Canada has largely ignored the issue of daily fantasy sports. There’s been no significant research done, and government bodies are ostensibly avoiding the topic.
Technical research and marketing expert, Jake Logan Jones, of Edmonton, agrees with Dr. Johnson’s assessment. He does not see DFS as gambling, because he considers it a genuine game of skill. His opinion isn’t just based on his educational background and expertise, but also the fact that he’s been managing fantasy hockey teams since grade school (for money once he reached legal age).
Jones says the difference between gambling and DFS is that “you have more control in a fantasy draft than you do in straight out gambling. The odds are a lot better.” That is, if you pay enough attention to things like stats, player history and even the weather.
“You have access to a lot of data, different elements that help you kind of choose your team,” Jones said. “Then again, it’s all up to chance anyways, but you have more control over it, rather than like walking into a casino and hitting the slots, where it’s straight out odds.”
Gaming Expert Says DFS Is Gambling
On the other end of the spectrum are people like gaming research specialist Gary Smith, of the Alberta Gambling Research Institute. He believes there’s no difference between DFS and gambling.
“You’re risking money, the outcome is uncertain, those are the main things to consider,” he says.
The definition of gambling in Canada is not a comprehensive one. So long as there’s an element of chance, and there’s something of monetary value o the line, that’s really all it takes.
Smith disregards the “element of skill” involved in fantasy sports. “The only skill that’s brought on is through computer. That’s not really a skill,” he argues. “That’s setting up the programs that tell you what the best bets are.”
Either way, it’s a pointless debate right now. It certainly doesn’t seem likely that Canada’s leaders will take up the argument anytime soon.
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Adalene Lucas: is our jack of all trades here at DBC. She is a skilled coder, gambler, writer and webmaster. She lives in Manitoba where she enjoys the lush landscapes and camping near Tulabi Falls. Nature gives her inspiration to write. When she's not immersed in nature, her favorite words are "game theory". She lives with her husband and their two Labradors, Kophy and Whisper.