Wednesday, June 01, 2016

PBS Frontline: "The Fantasy Sports Gamble"

On May 31, PBS Frontline re-aired its documentary “The Fantasy Sports Gamble”, linkA slender, attractive young man, graduating from college in Indiana and majoring in economics and business, was contemplating fantasy sports as a career rather than corporate work. People become fantasy “players”.   Some make seven figures a year. Fantasy Baseball is explained here.

The program covered many companies in the business (like Draft Kings and Fan Duel).  Some companies have license agreements with MLB and other sports.

Players claim there is skill involved, as they study the players whose “fantasy avatars” they trade. Fantasy players say they spend most of their time studying avatar players before making trades.   There is arguably skill involved in predicting how well a player will perform, and claim their winnings represent close study of player skills.  Would big league sports teams hire them? (like Jonah Hill's character in "Moneyball"). Would that young man get a job as a minor league scout?

But the New York State attorney general says that state law considers any operation based even partially on chance as illegal gambling.  This sounds like anti-libertarian “nanny state” mentality.

The documentary covered the hosting of servers running the leagues off shore (especially in Curacao, with the beach shown -- also a major site for international chess) -- and moving the servers to get around the law.

When I was a boy, we had not only a “league” of individualized backyard softball (my own record was something like 15-22, and home field advantage meant more than in MLB), and we also made up a fantasy league on paper of the 1955 baseball team, playing fungo games.   We did a good job of designing the rules, because the scores were reasonable.  The St. Louis Cardinals won a world series against the Baltimore Orioles.  The Senators were horrible (losing one fantasy game in Boston 17-0).  But the real Senators were 53-101 that year.  We also made cardboard stadiums (especially during summers in Ohio -- and I remember plenty of Indians' games in that "Mistake by the Lake") for some of the games.  My mother called this "baby play".  But there was more skill involved than in the grownup version.

Sometimes chess seems like a game of chance, especially in time scrambles, like at a tournament May 22 when a quiet position exploded into sacrifices and counter sacrifices.  I won on a blunder, when my opponent could have mated me.

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