State attorneys general in New York, Illinois and, as of Tuesday, Texas have declared that the high-stakes game of daily fantasy sports is gambling, illegal under their state laws.
Authorities from red states and blue states are weighing in, but not California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Harris’ absence is conspicuous, especially for an elected official who claims to have the backs of consumers.
In simpler times, friends would study box scores, create teams and compete against each other. That’s all changed. Opportunistic entrepreneurs seized on an ambiguity in 2006 federal legislation to turn a hobby into a multibillion-dollar business called daily fantasy sports.
Claiming with a poker face that it’s perfectly legal, professional sports team owners and leagues have invested in daily fantasy sports companies, while sharks use computer-generated “teams” to pick the pockets of small fry who foolishly think they have a shot at winning jackpots.
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Jay Caspian Kang, writing earlier this month in The New York Times Magazine, pointed out that sophisticated daily fantasy sports players have a term for what they do: “bumhunting.”
“Bumhunting is a word that comes from the poker world,” he wrote. “It means seeking out an inexperienced player and mercilessly exploiting him for all he’s worth.”
As Kamala Harris runs for U.S. Senate, her inaction on daily fantasy sports has political implications. That shouldn’t be a consideration, however.
Harris’ aides say she is investigating and that the issue is complicated. We don’t doubt that. But as she runs for U.S. Senate, her inaction has political implications.
Venture capitalists, major Silicon Valley corporations and owners of professional sports teams have invested heavily in daily fantasy sports. They’re political donors. Daily fantasy sports clearly is popular, and some fans are voters. No matter how she comes down, Harris would be crossing powerful forces. But that shouldn’t be a consideration.
Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, is pushing Assembly Bill 1437 to regulate the game, and invited Harris to attend the hearing on the legislation earlier this month. She declined.
Gray’s bill would place regulation of daily fantasy sports in the hands of the California Department of Justice, which has a unit that is supposed to oversee gambling. Even if she won’t reach a conclusion on the matter of law, Harris ought to have a view of a bill that would add to her office’s workload.
We understand that some people find daily fantasy sports gambling to be entertaining. We know, too, that most people who wager know when to stop. But with this type of gambling now as ubiquitous as smartphones, there need to be rules.
No one should want California’s law enforcement official to fire before aiming. The power of this state is considerable. But each week, huge sums are being wagered and lost without oversight. Harris needs to get in the game.