Government to Citizens: Powerball Good/Daily Fantasy Sports Bad

What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander.

44 states are selling legal lottery tickets to hopeful citizens with the 1 in 292.2 million chance of becoming a billionaire. (For those keeping score, you can’t play Powerball in AL, AS, HA, MS, NV and UT.)

At least 8 states have declared daily fantasy sports illegal gambling; all of these states, except Nevada, allow Powerball. (Again, for the score keepers, no DFS in AZ, IO, LA, MT, NV, WA, IL and NY*) *NY appellate court recently said o.k. for now.

What’s the difference? Your government said so.

Gambling in the U.S. is older than the United States themselves. In the early 1600s, while the Puritans forbade gambling as evil, some colonies saw gambling as a “proper gentleman’s diversion.” Lotteries were even used to help bail out early colonies, and all 13 original states established lotteries to raise revenue and saw playing the lottery as part of one’s civic duty. In fact, lotteries helped establish some our nation’s earliest and most prestigious universities (such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, William & Mary and Columbia). The first racetrack was built in Long Island in 1665. Taverns ran legal card and dice games. The spirit of adventure flourished.

In the early 1800s, scandals and religious fervor led to illegalizing gambling. Eventually courts and legislators condemned gambling for its “anti-social effects” and “negative impact” on one’s character. There was a wide-spread perception that legalized gambling led to crime, domestic violence, child neglect and alcohol and drug abuse. Further, legalized gambling purportedly preys on the vulnerable segments of our population, notably the poor and immigrants.

Is gambling good or bad? Yep. It all comes down to who’s making the money. If the government gets the revenues, the lottery is apparently a “proper gentleman’s (or gentlewoman’s) diversion.” The poor and immigrants needn’t worry because the revenue helps builds schools! (It has been reported that over 70% of the revenue from lottery tickets goes to prize money and administrative costs; but hey, there’s at least something for the kids.)

On the other hand, if FanDuel or DraftKings makes money, the players are apparently beer swigging, wife-beating maniacs whose kids are god-knows-where stealing money from vending machines. (Quick point: death by vending machine is more likely than winning Powerball.)

I don’t want to sound overly cynical, but a good argument can be made that the states that are adamantly against DFS are being hypocritical. If the justification for illegal gambling is that it’s bad for society, then so be it; but if it’s o.k. for our tired, poor, and huddled masses to stand in line for hours in order to spend gobs of hard-earned money buying numerous Powerball tickets to increase their odds infinitesimally – goaded on by promises of riches with only a “dollar and a dream” – then it makes no sense that an arm-chair quarterback should be banned from reliving his glory days by meticulously pouring over statistics to decide whether Tom Brady will throw three TDs against the Chiefs.

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