Why the Republican Debate Question About Daily Fantasy Sports Deserved to be Answered (but Wasn’t)
It wasn’t just Daily Fantasy Sports which lost a rare chance to shine in a national spotlight and be taken seriously as a legitimate political issue during last night’s Republican Presidential Debate, which was held in Boulder, CO.
We all lost.
That’s right. Every proponent of legalized and regulated sports betting and online poker/gambling in America missed out on the golden opportunity to hear each and every major candidate on that stage being required to make an official statement when it comes to the freedom of individuals to make their own choices and then justify their position in front of millions of viewers and voters, about half of which are estimated to have gambled within just the past year.
With one snarky comment delivered by Gov. Chris Christie, the issue was swatted away like an annoying wasp buzzing around at a summer picnic. Now, it’s highly unlikely the subject of online gambling (or DFS) will ever come up again in any debate, at least not prior to the 2016 presidential election. You wanted to hear a question about Internet gambling or online poker? Well, you sort of got it, and then opened up the gift box only to discover a smelly shit sandwich. No one who was present last night took the issue seriously, nor did anyone who watched the debate. We should all be furious as to how this was handled, and so rudely dismissed.
In case you missed the pathetic moment, one of the CNBC’s moderators asked the candidates about the recent controversy over fantasy football. That’s been in the news a lot lately, and undoubtedly, there are millions of consumers out there who would have been interested in hearing the candidates reply earnestly to a serious question. Instead, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush bumbled his way awkwardly for a few seconds before New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie essentially wrestled the microphone away and pretty much barked out what most of the country was thinking.
Here’s the verbatim transcript from The Washington Post:
MODERATOR: Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?
BUSH: Well, first of all, I’m 7 and 0 in my fantasy league.
MODERATOR: I had a feeling you were going to brag about that.
BUSH: Gronkowski is still going strong. I have Ryan Tannehill, Marco, as my quarterback, he was 18 for 19 last week. So I’m doing great. But we’re not gambling. And I think this has become something that needs to be looked at in terms of regulation. Effectively it is day trading without any regulation at all. And when you have insider information, which apparently has been the case, where people use that information and use big data to try to take advantage of it, there has to be some regulation. If they can’t regulate themselves, then the NFL needs to look at just, you know, moving away from them a little bit. And there should be some regulation. I have no clue whether the federal government is the proper place. My instinct is to say, hell no, just about everything about the federal government.
CHRISTIE: Carl, are we really talking about getting government involved in fantasy football? We have … wait a second, we have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and Al Qaeda attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? How about this? How about we get the government to do what they’re supposed to be doing? Secure our borders, protect our people, and support American values and American families. Enough on fantasy football. Let people play, who cares?
No question, that was a terrific applause line. Politically, it was a home run. Judging by the outburst of applause Christie’s received from a strongly partisan Republican audience, apparently most of the G.O.P. faithful thought the question was silly and the government has no business whatsoever in the oversight of fantasy football, or presumably other forms of online gambling activity.
That would be fine, except for one thing, which is well — kinda’ huge. The Republican Party Platform (that’s still in place from the 2012 national convention) reads as follows, and I quote:
“We support the prohibition of gambling over the Internet and call for reversal of the Justice Department’s decision distorting the formerly accepted meaning of the Wire Act that could open the door to Internet betting,”
Hmm. One must wonder how many of those well-connected hands of donors and party hacks that were clapping last night in Boulder and voices shouting approval for Christie’s outright dismissal of the validity of fantasy football and gambling as viable political issues were the very hands and voices of opposition which inserted this prohibitive plank into their own party’s platform? “Let people play, who cares?” Gov. Christie said to fawning approval by the same crowd that insisted on language prohibiting virtually all forms of online gambling. What irony.
No doubt Gov. Christie was essentially correct in stating that fantasy football isn’t really all that important, not when compared to the economy, foreign policy, and other pressing issues which tend to dominate the election cycle. Then again, the question was entirely appropriate for a number of reasons, primarily financial and philosophical.
First, the Republican Party’s biggest donor (from four years ago) happens to be Mr. Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who is financing an outright policy war against online poker and gambling. He reportedly donated $100 million to Republican candidates and causes three years ago, and has promised to do much the same during this campaign. Moreover, Mr. Adelson is bankrolling lobbying firms in Washington, financing a coalition of for-hire political mercenaries, and buying current and former lawmakers to work towards a total ban of most forms of online gambling — including poker and sports betting. Just about all the candidates on that stage last night paraded in front of Mr. Adelson last year, in a shameless display of ass-kissing that was widely ridiculed as the “Adleson Primary.” [READ MORE HERE] So eager to curry Adelson’s political favor and earn his financial support, that all the major candidates (except for Donald Trump and Rand Paul) have reportedly
kissed the ring met with the CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, Corp. — some of them multiple times. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with Exhibit 1 of “Crony Capitalism.”
Wait, there’s more.
Sen. Marco Rubio, although wickedly conservative, appears to be one of the few sane candidates running with a legitimate chance of winning in 2016. Some media outlets insist he’s allegedly moved into the lead as Adelson’s favored candidate, which sort of means winning the political lottery. As reported by Politico a few weeks ago, “Sheldon Adleson Warms to Marco Rubio.” Shouldn’t someone in the media be asking about their relationship and what’s expected in return for all that cash?
See, that’s the question which should have been asked in the debate last night. We’d like to know what exactly a person who potentially might become the President of the United States tells a bully billionaire when the phone rings on the morning of Jan. 21, 2017 at the White House, and it’s come time to repay the favors. That’s why the fantasy football question was important to hear, because by association it opens inquiry to far deeper financial connections. It divulges what candidates think about a popular social phenomenon. And finally most important, it reveals basic convictions as to what role, if any, our government should play in the daily lives of citizens and when it comes to regulating the Internet.
Call me crazy, but I kinda’ think those are important issues. So do lots of other citizens, too — and they aren’t just DFS players. They’re millions of business people and consumers who engage daily in online activities. We have a right to know to what extent candidates will try and control (and possibly outlaw) what we enjoy doing. Indeed, the fantasy football question, along with much more profound philosophical issues as to government’s involvement in online business and commerce isn’t out of place at all. Rather, it’s essential that we get some honest answers.
See, here’s the thing. The top Republican donor in this campaign is a selfishly vile opponent of online gambling, which by association includes fantasy football. One of the presumed soon-to-be presidential front runners may get most of that money. The Republican Party’s official platform includes a clear statement opposing any expansion of online gambling. A large percentage of Republican voters are Christian conservatives, who overwhelmingly oppose online gambling, probably fantasy sports on moral grounds as well. Finally, the governor who addressed the question actually favors legalized sports betting within his own state, putting him at odds with his own party when it comes to the expansion of gambling. Meanwhile, online commerce remains the fastest-growing sector of the American economy and regulation of what goes on over the Internet is increasingly becoming an important issue.
So in the end, one brave moderator went out on a limb and asked something on the minds of millions, something that’s clearly a current policy issue, yet the fantasy football question was made into a total farce. While advocates for Internet freedom have been pushing a loaded wheelbarrow uphill in support of legalized and regulated online poker and sports betting for more than a decade, Gov. Christie won a few seconds of cheap applause by asking, “who cares?” Meanwhile, various agencies of government are going after Daily Fantasy Sports as we speak, so apparently lots of public officials and agencies “care” about this issue.
“Who cares?” Ask that same question to all the congressmen and senators, the attorneys general, the federal prosecutors, and the state gaming boards who apparently “care” enough to make this a controversy right now.
We also care, Governor. Millions of us care. And we’d like to hear you and every other presidential candidate answer the question.