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Is fantasy sports betting out of control?
With billions on the line, sports commentator Pluto says fantasy betting is a threat to the game and its fans

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M.L. Schultze
DraftKings and FanDuel have changed the world of fantasy sports.
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Betting on sports fantasy leagues has grown to $2.6 billion a year and is expected to soar to nearly $15 billion by the end of the decade. Team owners, major sports leagues and TV networks have all invested in companies like DraftKings and FanDuel -- even while New York’s attorney general, Nevada gaming officials and Congress are investigating.

WKSU’s M.L. Schultze talked with our sports commentator Terry Pluto about the exponential growth and potential pitfalls:

LISTEN: Pluto on the big business of fantasy sports

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Fantasy sports takes real stats from real players and puts them into mythical teams in mythical leagues. It’s been a part of fan life for decades -- with fantasy owners scoring points based on how well they “drafted” their fantasy players. But Terry Pluto says what’s evolving is something very different.

“If every 10 minutes you heard a commercial for your private fantasy league, it would be the same. If Jerry Jones from the Dallas Cowboys owned part of the Schultze Fantasy League, it would be the same. Or if the NBA had a financial interest in your fantasy league.  … But it’s not even close to the same.”

Big money and the internet
Like so many things, Pluto says the internet has changed fantasy sports drastically. So does marketing. “FanDuel and DraftKings, they advertise on everything. And the reason is very simple. When there’s going to be something like $14 million spent nn this stuff almost per day … the big boys are going …t o want a piece of the action.”

The big boys include Major League Baseball, which has a small equity stake in DraftKings. This after decades of bans and other punishments when even a whiff of gambling  touched the game -- ever since the Black Sox scandal of a century ago.

To Pluto, “This makes no sense. It is illegal to bet on whether your team is going to win or  not -- except maybe in Vegas or Atlantaic City. But yet we can pick a fantasy team and see how LeBron’s going to do, how Josh McCown’s going to do? And that’s legal? … Frankly, I’m more comfortable in betting on your team to win or lose than fantasy. It’s a lot easier to get to one player and fix him than it is to fix the whole team."

Getting some attention
Regulators are taking a closer look. And New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone has asked for a hearing by the House panel that oversees pro sports and gambling.

Pluto says the real-life sports leagues themselves seem to be trusting that things won’t get out of hand. He says that may be misplaced.

“What they hope is that their players are making so much money now (they won’t be tempted). The NBA this year, the average salary will be about $4.5 million.” Major League Baseball players are averaging about $4 million, and football players in the range of $2 million to $3 million.

Temptations abound
“But there are a whole bunch of guys … ‘only  making’ $500,000. I’m just saying you can get to these guys with some cash if they have real problems.”“But there are a whole bunch of guys … ‘only  making’ $500,000. I’m just saying you can get to these guys with some cash if they have real problems.”

As for the fans, “This is going to continue to cause more problems. This is going to cause dysfunction in families.”

Already, Pluto says, he recognizes that from some e-mails he gets after a Browns loss. It goes beyond a regular fan’s dejection. “I know the way they’re acting there, they bet on that game.”

That’s WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto. The fantasy businesses say they are not gambling because their games are based on skill, not chance.  Pluto says if the games are not going to be banned altogether, they should at least come under state lottery or other regulation to head off the risks to bettors, players and the sports themselves.

LISTEN: Pluto talks about Cavs' chances, a long season and the dynamics of LeBron and David Blatt
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Related Links & Resources
Jerry Jones defends his stake

FanDuel refuses to stop college fantasy betting

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