By Evan Grossman
He’s the last guy in the world you’d think would endorse the legalization of something that ruined his life.
But the most moving piece of tonight’s Vice World of Sports special on sports betting comes when a New York gambling addict who has lost $5 million, as well as most of his friends and family to his compulsive behavior, endorses the legalization and regulation of sports wagering.
“Because of people like us,” says the man who goes by the name Bobby G. “That’s why you need the regulation.”
The half-hour show delves deep into the world of sports gambling and profiles traditional sportsbook wagering in Las Vegas and transitions midway to the daily fantasy sports craze. Vice showrunner Evan Rosenfeld, who also worked on popular “ESPN’s 30 for 30” sports documentaries like “The U” and “Broke,” said he could not tell a sports gambling story without also including DFS, calling sites like DraftKings and FanDuel the “elephant in the room.”
“Here we were talking about sports gambling, but behind our back over here was this booming industry,” said Rosenfeld, who spent a year filming the show.
“[DFS] seemed to be a main part of the story so we just split it up,” he said. “We don’t dedicate the whole piece to daily fantasy. It was just supposed to be a very tiny part of the piece and it became as big as anything else that we talk about.”
Sports gambling is at a crossroads in America. At one time, pro leagues distanced themselves from betting like they were walking past a beehive, but in recent years, some have lightened their stance. This week, reports indicate the NHL will have an expansion team play in Las Vegas, while NBA commissioner Adam Silver has endorsed the legalization of sports betting for some time now. The NFL remains hard against any association with gambling, though the Oakland Raiders have expressed interest in relocating to Las Vegas, where sports betting is legal.
American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman estimates upwards of “hundreds of billions of dollars” are illegally wagered on sports each year in the United States.
“An NHL team in Las Vegas is a win for Nevada, a win for casino gaming, and we think a win for fans, as well,” he said. “Frankly, it’s about time this important step in Las Vegas is taking place.”
The AGA has said that playing near casinos poses no threats to the integrity of professional sports and points out most NFL teams already play in stadiums a short drive or even walking distance from legal gambling halls.
“Clearly, the casino industry and the sports industry can coexist,” Freeman said.
Politicians like Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., who wants to legalize sports betting in the Garden State, has said professional sports leagues that invest in or endorse fantasy gaming but distance themselves from traditional sports betting are hypocritical. Pallone wants to legalize and tax it all.
Lawmakers across the country have been debating the merits of legalization and regulation of sports betting and in New York, there is currently a bill working its way through Albany that would legalize fantasy sports, which is currently off limits. Pennsylvania advanced its own fantasy sports bill Wednesday when the House Gaming Oversight Committee unanimously passed legislation it had been studying for the last year.
While Pennsylvania would be a huge victory for fantasy supporters, New York, because of its size and political heft, would be a major win for the industry. DraftKings and FanDuel, the two biggest DFS operators, voluntarily stopped taking bets in New York earlier this year as part of a settlement with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as they essentially called a timeout in the lawsuit against them.
Schneiderman argues that fantasy sports is the same as gambling and should therefore be banned.
On the other side of the debate, the AGA, which represents the casino industry, has said Americans are going to bet on sports whether it’s legal or not. The AGA conservatively estimates $149 billion was illegally bet on sports in 2015, as compared to the $4.2 billion legally bet on sports in Las Vegas sports books.
If New York legalizes the fantasy games by the end of the legislative session tomorrow, DFS players can resume playing. If a law is not passed, Schneiderman’s lawsuit will resume in September.
DraftKings and FanDuel, which have been lobbying lawmakers for months, would embrace regulation. But in addition to those companies, which have a massive financial stake in DFS regulation, some of the most vulnerable segments of the population also seem to be in favor of some kind of government oversight of the games.
“A lot of the people we talked to were on the side of favoring legalization for daily fantasy and sports betting,” Rosenfeld said. “We also wanted to present the darker side of it, so we linked up with a Gamblers Anonymous meeting and people who were willing to talk to us, because not everyone would.
“We were blown away by this guy who was making the strongest argument for legalization and basically saying this is going to go on no matter what, so if we legalize it, we can keep track of it so it doesn’t get out of hand in the underground world,” he said.
“He was very passionate about that.”