A lot of people, some of them in the FBI, are wondering what the difference is between daily fantasy football and gambling. As a prize-winning investigative journalist (I was recently awarded three Tootsie Rolls by an arcade claw machine), I decided to go undercover and infiltrate the Boston-based DraftKings organization. And by “infiltrate,” I mean “give them $100 so that I can be outsmarted by someone who goes by the screen name GoatsNHoes.”
If you’re not familiar with fantasy football… good for you. You’re probably a well-adjusted person with an active social life and a healthy body mass index. But the idea is that you pick a roster of football players and their collective performance that week determines the success of your team. Most fantasy leagues are composed of friends who select teams during the preseason and keep them till December. DraftKings and its main rival, FanDuel, have a slightly different premise: You pick a new team every week. And there’s money on the line.
I know, I know—that sounds like gambling. But it’s not. You see, gambling is when you bet money to wager on some future outcome, whereas fantasy football is where you invest money to profit from some future outcome. It’s just like the stock market, and nobody’s ever compared the stock market to legalized gambling. Some guy at the roulette wheel putting $100 on red: That’s gambling. You putting $100 in your DraftKings account because you think Julian Edelman’s gonna have a huge game? That’s just smart investing.
For my first game, I entered something called the NFL $75K Chop Block. It was a $50 buy-in and 1,577 players signed up to compete for $75,000 in prizes, which means DraftKings pocketed $3,850 for hosting a web page. I hope they throw some really debauched Wolf of Wall Street-style parties over there on Franklin Street.
I’ll bet you’re dying to know who I picked for my team and my rationalization for each choice, but listen: I don’t know who’s reading this, and there might be some people with heart conditions. I don’t want to shock them with the sudden excitement they’d feel upon learning the details of my value-defense strategy. Suffice it to say you pick some good guys and some shaky guys and see how it turns out. From what I gather from the incessant TV ads, the process involves ignoring people at social functions while staring at your phone and occasionally screaming.
I also tried to put my other $50 into a second contest, but it turns out that I misread the rules and only ended up spending $3—thus making me possibly the first guy in DraftKings history who’s too dumb to lose money.
When Sunday rolls around, I normally have a pretty good idea of what’s going on. With a regular fantasy team, you have the same players week to week, so you get to know them in a way that’s probably unhealthy. I have friends I haven’t spoken to in months, but I can tell you all about Tevin Coleman’s rib, when he broke it and how he’s trying to regain his starting spot given Devonta Freeman’s inarguable success. On some level, I feel like Tevin Coleman is my friend. I’m pulling for him. Because he’s on my team and Freeman belongs to a hated rival, the Lucky Pierres.
But with DraftKings, I have a hard time remembering which players I picked. It’s a bunch of mercenaries. And not only that, I don’t know the faces behind any of the other fantasy hopefuls who are trying to take me down. If I win money, that’s great, but I won’t really derive any satisfaction from trumping someone called littlebushonmyjonson.
(And by the way, all these anonymous screen names are cowardly. My screen name is my actual name, because I stand behind my choices. I only saw one other guy who used his real name, a fellow named Richard Head. Good for you, Richard!)
As the actual football games progress, I realize that even though I have money riding on the DraftKings contests, I don’t care as much about those as I do about my regular league, where the only thing at stake is honor. I mean, the guys in that league are people I really care about, and fantasy football is a means for us to stay in touch and support one another. For instance, one of my buddies couldn’t make it to our league draft because his hair-extension business was robbed and he had to stay at the store that night. When I heard about that scary incident, I did what any concerned friend would do: I Photoshopped an image of the McDonald’s Hamburglar clutching wigs in his hands, named him the Hairburglar and made that my team logo.
As for DraftKings, I still have $47 to bet—uh, invest. See you next week, GoatsNHoes.