Feeding the fantasy

Sitting on the back patio of a sports bar this past Sunday with family, friends, grill-cooked wings and cheese sticks, we celebrated the kickoff of a new NFL season. There was the usual screaming and swearing, high-fiving and cheering. I even took a picture of a young man about 8 years old leaning against the bar watching football next to another guy wearing a T-shirt that said, “Don’t be a stick.” (It did not say “stick” but it rhymes with stick, and it was hilarious to see them standing next to each other.) Ah, yes, it is football season again. 

It is also impossible to ignore or miss the emergence of laptops as a bar commonplace, more specifically, electronic devices of all shapes and sizes. Even if you don’t play fantasy football, I bet you know someone who does. Fantasy football, which has been around for decades, has become as common as the flu. Fantasy football is the game that has turned fans of teams into fans of players. Fans are now commonly, openly rooting against their favorite team, and instead rooting for an opposing player who they have on their fantasy team.

It’s stupid. I hate it. And if I sound overly judgmental, it’s because I’m bitter about how awful my team is and how frustrating it is to watch Andrew Luck throw two interceptions against the Bills this week. C’mon, Andrew!

Last year, over 33 million Americans played fantasy football (according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association … which is apparently a real thing), and the number is only expected to grow exponentially this year. Billions of dollars will be spent, risked, wagered, bet and gambled on this faux-football game. (They estimate over $11 billion … billion with a “B”!) 

But gambling is illegal in America, right? Outside of designated, morally-stained territories and riverboats, gambling is a crime … no? 

The answer: Gambling is illegal, yes. Fantasy football? No, totally legal. 

The reason fantasy football is legally permissible in all 50 states and the District of Columbia is that the courts decided it is a “skill.” And not just fantasy football, fantasy anything — baseball, basketball, hockey … even golf … are all legal. This is the equivalent of tomatoes being illegal in America, but tomato soup being legal, or deeming two-wheeled modes of transportation immoral, but bike-racing good, wholesome fun.

I don’t know if these are reasonable comparisons. I do know, however, that ruling fantasy-sports betting legal, and poker illegal, makes no sense. Furthermore, saying fantasy is a skill is even crazier. And finally, for the government to decide that a hobby, leisure activity or any other use of one’s own money is legal or illegal based on whether or not it is a “skill” is completely insane. 

The Ten Commandments equivalent of this would be, “You shall not commit adultery, unless you’re a real smooth talker,” or “You shall not steal, unless you’re really, really sneaky,” or, my favorite, “Honor your father and mother, unless you’re playing them in fantasy football … then yell and scream as Andrew Luck scores 50 points and you dominate them.”

I suppose making crazy analogies would be illegal too, except it’s a “skill.” (Also, I’m looking to trade for some good analogies if anyone has a few on their bench.)

Ultimately, it’s only a matter of time before gambling and, in particular, sports betting is legal in America; too many people want to be able to enjoy wagering as a hobby, just like bingo, the lottery, scratch-offs and horse racing. 

And it should be. The government has no business telling people how they should and should not be allowed to spend their own money, particularly for entertainment purposes. (Of course, I am not arguing people should be able to freely buy hard drugs, guns and other life-threatening or exploitive vices.) Instead, the government should be in the business of bringing the billions of dollars in offshore-betting accounts and websites back to the U.S.

As well, let the 8-year-old boy, the guy in the “stick” T-shirt and I enjoy our football with some real rooting interest. OK, maybe not the boy. But if fantasy football is legal because it’s a game of skill, apparently I shouldn’t be allowed to play that either. (Unless Andrew Luck throws some touchdowns this weekend!)