Bob Shallit

Developer takes chance on fantasy sports venture

Home page for GolfSharks, a fantasy sports game developed in Sacramento.
Home page for GolfSharks, a fantasy sports game developed in Sacramento.

Sacramento developer Jim Donovan is placing a big bet on what could be a risky deal: He’s getting into the daily fantasy sports business.

Donovan and two partners have developed an online game – GolfSharks – that allows fans to select teams of U.S. and European golf pros and make daily wagers on their performances.

It’s a first for the multibillion-dollar business – a fantasy game focused exclusively on golf instead of baseball, basketball and football.

The big gamble for Donovan and his partners is the uncertain regulatory environment for such games, with some states banning them outright and others – California among them – still determining if or how they will allow them.

Donovan is confident on that score.

“I think this year we’ll get clarity on regulations for fantasy sports, and in the next two years they’ll legalize all sports betting,” he said.

Donovan was a top developer here in the late 1990s and early 2000s before, in his words, getting his “clock cleaned” during the real estate crash. He ended up moving to Los Angeles and then Silicon Valley before returning to Sacramento last year.

The idea for GolfSharks sprang from friendly betting contests he ran for years with his golfing buddies. Those started with a few friends trying to predict the top finishers in major PGA tournaments and tracking the results on an Excel spreadsheet.

Eventually about 30 people were playing before Donovan and his partners figured they ought to expand it into a business.

“We thought, ‘Hey, we’re golfers. We know how to do this. Why don’t we get into the fantasy sports business?’ ”

The three partners – Donovan, Mat Eland and Jason Eland – contributed about $250,000 to develop a beta version of the game, in which players pick six golfers – two from among the top five-ranked players in the world, two from those in the top 20 and two more from the rest of the field – and match their “teams” against those of other game participants.

They were ready to launch the game last November when New York’s attorney general issued a cease and desist order against top fantasy operators FanDuel and DraftKings, leading other states to review the operations.

“It was reminiscent of real estate,” Donovan said. “All of a sudden things can go south.”

But Donovan said fantasy sports are so popular that they’ll ultimately be permitted everywhere.

“Everybody plays ... whether it’s picking an NCAA bracket or (betting on) the Super Bowl,” he said. “It’s part of our culture. It’s uniquely American.”

Back to the future

The owners of Joe Marty’s Bar & Grille began getting the question even before they reopened the historic Sacramento business in December: Where’s the chicken?

Specifically, where’s the “broasted” chicken that was a juicy favorite at Joe Marty’s for decades before a fire closed the Broadway business in 2005.

Co-owners Jack Morris and Devon Atlee weren’t even sure what broasting meant. But they did some research, learned about the cooking process and then purchased a commercial broaster from a local restaurateur who wasn’t using it.

Next they reached out to Billy Fuller, a former Joe Marty’s chef, who brought in the original “secret” recipe and taught current staffers how to prepare it.

Earlier this week, the owners held a focus group, serving the dish to 16 “old-timers” – folks who frequented Joe Marty’s years ago. “They all loved it,” Morris said.

So, starting Sunday, “Joe Marty’s Original Chicken” will be on the menu, at least a couple of days a week, along with fries coated with the same batter as the chicken.

Other menu changes have been implemented at the glitzy, baseball-themed eatery, all aimed at “getting the kitchen up to speed,” Morris said. With the addition of chicken legs and thighs prepared using a combination of frying and pressure cooking, Morris said, “we’re there now.”