DFS provides “an enormous opportunity for Thoroughbred racing"

Ex-NBA Commish David Stern Goes Rogue Again, Says Fantasy Sports Show That “Americans Love To Gamble”

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Former NBA Commissioner David Stern again went off script for the daily fantasy sports industry, equating DFS to gambling in comments made last week.

What he said

Stern’s comments came last week at the Pan American Conference, an event about the horse racing industry, held in New York City to coincide with the Belmont Stakes.

Here is what Stern said, according to Horse Racing Daily:

…Stern suggested that fantasy sports provide “an enormous opportunity for Thoroughbred racing.”

“Fantasy is another way to get people interested in your sport and you can go one better than fantasy because with Thoroughbred racing they can make a legal wager anytime they want. Fantasy has demonstrated what we already knew: Americans love to gamble.”

Stern’s comments about fantasy sports  were not widely reported, so what else he said about DFS, if anything, is unclear. Coincidentally, DraftKings sponsored the race.

Off message?

Despite becoming a proponent of daily fantasy sports, this is the second time Stern has called it gambling, although he later called it a skill game, as well.

At this point, the DFS industry would probably like to see Stern stick with the talking points that they try hard to push — namely that it’s a game of skill that should not be equated to gaming. The more people like Stern call DFS a form of gambling, the more likely it is that legislators at the state and federal level start to view it that way, as well.

The battle has been waged in several legislatures this year, to varying success. A bill in Kansas legalizing DFS became law. A bill in Louisiana made progress before encountering opposition. An Iowa bill has hope for next year after passing a senate vote. And other bills made no progress.

Stern also has a monetary interest in the fantasy industry now, as an investor in the eSports fantasy site Alpha Draft. That makes it even more curious that he wouldn’t speak in a way that encourages the status quo to remain. Clearly current NBA commissioner Adam Silver doesn’t want the DFS industry to run into legal issues, as his league owns an equity stake in FanDuel.

While some think regulation of the industry is inevitable, the DFS industry doesn’t subscribe to that line of thinking, quite yet. Stern adding to the drumbeat of DFS as gambling is probably not welcomed by people inside the industry.

Horse racing and fantasy

Beyond the undertone of what Stern said, there’s the actual meat of his comments: Namely, that daily fantasy sports could be good for the horse-racing industry.

The attraction of DFS for most sports is that it gives fans a monetary rooting interest and a reason to consume more of their product.

But horse-racing is already a sport entirely driven by gambling.  Outside of interest from casual fans in the Triple Crown and other major stakes races, not a whole lot of people watch horse racing, currently, without having a wager on the outcomes of races. So it can be difficult to see how fantasy sports and horse racing might intersect in a meaningful and impactful way.

That doesn’t mean that tracks won’t try to cash in on the DFS craze. For example:

How exactly horse racing intersects with DFS to help a sport in acknowledged decline is still up in the air, and up for debate. What’s not up for debate? No DFS sites want Stern to continue calling their product “gambling.”

Photo by Fortune Live Media used under license CC BY 2.0.

Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.