New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did his best Allen Iverson “We’re talking about practice” impersonation Wednesday night, castigating CNBC moderators for asking GOP presidential hopefuls about whether multibillion-dollar daily fantasy sports leagues require regulation.
“Are we really talking about getting the government involved in fantasy football? We have $19 trillion in debt. We have people out of work. We have ISIS and al-Qaida attacking us. And we’re talking about fantasy football? Can we stop? Can we stop?” Christie said to uproarious applause. “Enough on fantasy football. Let people play! Who cares?”
It was an emphatic moment, to be sure, but it also sidestepped a serious policy question: whether employees at rival daily fantasy gaming websites have been using inside information to line their pockets with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Christie appeared to be decrying regulation of season-long fantasy leagues between friends (full disclosure: Yahoo Sports runs a popular season-based Fantasy Football league and recently launched a daily product) but the regulatory question at issue is not about them, but about the daily fantasy gaming world.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a blockbuster story exposing a potential insider-trading “scandal” involving employees who had access to information about National Football League players and teams believed to be unavailable to the general public. It was alleged that at least one employee used that information to place large bets at rival daily fantasy websites. According to the report, one “middle manager” at a daily fantasy website, DraftKings, won $350,000 using another fantasy site, FanDuel.
Moreover, casino-based gambling versus Internet-based gambling has long been a policy area where top politicians from states with casino-based business like to weigh in, pushing for more regulation so that Internet gambling doesn’t cut into state economies over which gaming commissions hold sway.
Given that Atlantic City is a casino-based tourism center, it’s a surprising position for the governor of New Jersey to take. Top lawmakers from states that house legal gambling have been openly skeptical of the operations of websites like DraftKings and FanDuel.
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that daily fantasy sports is tantamount to unregulated gambling and that Congress should act to correct the matter.
“I think we should do something here legislatively, but you know, I don’t get much done around here with my Republican colleagues,” Reid said. “If not, state attorney generals and other state entities should take a look at this, because it’s really unfair.”
Reid was once the chairman of Nevada’s Gaming Commission, before becoming a senator. He denied he had any parochial interest in the issue and insisted it was about principle.
“It’s the only type of gambling in America that’s unregulated, nothing else, and that’s not right,” Reid said, according to the report. “I know something about gaming. If people at the top want to cheat, you have trouble doing anything about it, and obviously, people at the top have done very little to stop things being done that are unfair to the other people that are betting on these fantasy sports.”
Maybe Christie legitimately disagrees. But it seemed he mostly was trying to score a quick political point.