MGM CEO: ‘FanDuel Or DraftKings — Who’s Going To Tell Me That’s Not Gambling?’

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DFS MGM Murren

MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren again had pointed words for the daily fantasy sports industry, saying that FanDuel and DraftKings offer gambling.

What Murren had to say about DFS

Murren did a lengthy interview with News3LV in Las Vegas, speaking on a wide range of subjects. The interviewer asked him about his stance on online gambling, and efforts to ban iGaming on the federal level.

Without prompting, Murren drifted into the subject of fantasy sports, telling a story about his wife playing in a season-long league. But he drew a bright line between leagues among friends and family and DFS. 

“But who in the world thinks that FanDuel or DraftKings — who’s going to tell me that’s not gambling? Of course it’s gambling. But people are doing it, they are doing it all over the place. It’s not regulated.”

That’s an aggressive stance from Murren; instead of talking about the DFS industry in general, he called out its two largest operators by name. He continued on, linking the ideas that online gambling and daily fantasy sports need to be treated similarly:

“So we have to very thoughtfully and just be honest with ourselves, the world wants these kinds of products. They want to gamble on fantasy football, they want to play internet poker…I’m cool with that, they should be able to do that. I am not ‘Mr. Moral’ that I am supposed to impose my morals on somebody else. What I am is someone that is highly concerned that illegal activity is being undertaken today that is hurting all of us.”

(Murren’s remarks start at about the 2:30 mark of part 2. You can see a fuller transcription of all his comments at Online Poker Report.)

This isn’t the first time Murren gave his opinions about daily fantasy sports. In an interview in April, Murren said that professional sports representatives who consider DFS as something other than gambling are “absolutely, utterly wrong.”

Murren’s comments come as Nevada considers the legal status of DFS, which will certainly have an impact in the state, and could have ramifications elsewhere in the U.S.

Not the only heat coming at DFS … and the NFL

Tuesday’s New Jersey sports betting verdict — in which the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals said that New Jersey cannot offer sports betting — also put a target on DFS.

New Jersey state senator Raymond Lesniak made some pointed remarks aimed at the NFL and the DFS industry in the wake of that ruling, according to the New York Times. (Lesniak was the sponsor of the bill that attempted to lift the sports betting ban in New Jersey. In the ensuing court case, the major North American sports leagues — the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL — were among the plaintiffs.)

Lesniak noted that the league holds games in London (where sports betting is legal) and that is has no problem creating relationships with DFS sites like DraftKings and FanDuel:

He also said the professional sports leagues were “knee-deep in hypocrisy” in opposing the bill, especially the N.F.L., in which many teams have embraced the daily fantasy segment in which fans fill out lineups with current N.F.L. stars and play each other for money.

“The N.F.L. will play three games in London at Wembley Stadium, where fans can sit in their seats and bet games,” Mr. Lesniak said. “They want to have their gambling through fantasy sports, and they want to control and run it.”

Sara Rayme — the American Gaming Association senior vice president of public affairs — also drew a line between sports betting and daily fantasy sports, in a piece at ESPN after the sports betting appeal.

Rayme told ESPN Chalk that the growing mainstream acceptance of wagering has altered thinking on the issue.

“We’ve seen a clear shift from NBA commissioner Adam Silver,” said Rayme. “The only holdout is the NFL.

“We are not sure how the NFL could avoid looking at the issue, especially given the large number of NFL teams who have inked sponsorship deals in the DFS space.”

Different treatment for sports betting, online gambling vs. DFS?

The takeaway from all these comments? People are continuing to publicly question why DFS is getting a pass as a non-gambling activity.

Yes, fantasy sports has a carveout under federal law, via the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. And yes, there is skill involved in playing DFS. As one op-ed at LSR pointed out, however, DFS being called a skill game and gambling are not necessarily mutually exclusive ideas.

But even the sponsor of the UIGEA said he had no intention of allowing what DFS has become. According to Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA), the carveout was meant more for things like the friendly league of Murren’s wife, not creating an industry that now generates hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue and a pair of billion-dollar companies.

Whether or not any of the comments being made about DFS of late results in regulation or any action from state attorneys general is not a settled one. Even just this week, a Michigan legislator introduced a bill that would simply legalize real-money fantasy sports in his state, with no regulation.

But either way, it seems clear DFS is not winning the battle to be differentiated from gambling in the mainstream media. And, DFS is now an easy target for proponents of legalized sports betting and online gambling in the U.S. as well. And those are trends that appear nearly impossible to reverse.

Photo by Themiragelv used under license CC BY-SA 3.0.