This Thanksgiving eve, hundreds of thousands of fantasy sports players in New York are hoping for the gift of continued action on pro football. We probably won't get it, not because the daily and weekly fantasy contests offered by DraftKings and FanDuel are particularly harmful, but because New York law is clear.
Stupid, but clear.
Gambling is illegal in New York, except in the specific instances when it's specifically permitted, like horse racing, lotteries, Indian casinos, video lottery terminals (slot machines), and as many as seven new casinos voters have approved.
Daily fantasy sports have been allowed until now. Here's how they work: Every Sunday, I get an invitation from my football-obsessed married friends, Chris and Stef, to join an online contest and try to pick a lineup for that day's NFL games. We each kick in $5 and DraftKings keeps 10 percent so the winner gets $13.50. So I'm told. I've never won.
We get a payroll of $50,000 to pick a quarterback, a tight end, a couple of running backs and wide receivers, and a team defense, with the site setting the salary of each player. No one can afford too many stars. Smart fantasy players find cheap athletes who produce.
As the day goes on, my squad suffers bizarre injuries ("It looks like the defense has torn off quarterback Andrew Luck's throwing arm and is roasting it over a bonfire"), and Chris and Stef's guys play as if their moms are ill and the cure is in the end zone.
Then my DraftKings balance dips $5, and I get a chat message suggesting I have the sports knowledge and upper body strength of a 9-year-old.
There are people who play for more money, and in pools with thousands of opponents, but that's the gist of it.
Legally, betting that players on various teams will have a great day is a lot like betting that guys all on the same team will have a great day. That's sports betting, and it's illegal in New York.
DraftKings and FanDuel have operated in New York and more than 40 other states with no trouble because a 2006 federal law that mostly outlawed Internet gambling said sports fantasy leagues were not illegal. But the law applies to season-long fantasy contests. And it doesn't bar states from banning fantasy sports.
The major sports leagues and networks love daily fantasy games because they take fans from avidly watching the one game their team has each week to avidly watching every game, potentially in every sport, to track their fantasy choices. But state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman cracked down two weeks ago with a cease-and-desist order.
DraftKings and FanDuel said they'd argue in front of a state Supreme Court judge today that their contests aren't "gambling" because they are decided by skill. And to prove it, they'd bring statistics to show the best participants consistently win money.
In fact, both luck and skill are involved. In the long run the best participants will win, but chance has a lot to do with who wins individual contests. In that sense, it's just like poker, which courts have consistently refused to permit based on a basically identical skill argument.
So we have a federal law that says you can't bet on sports, except in four states where you can. And we have New York State law that says you can't gamble, but is riddled with exceptions. The upshot is that by the time my turkey is digesting and the Carolina Panthers take on the Dallas Cowboys Thursday, it will be legal for me to bet $50,000 on a horse race and illegal for me to bet $5 on what kind of day quarterback Cam Newton will have. And my friendly battles with Chris and Stef will be limited to the last piece of pumpkin cheesecake, and my upper body strength.
For that, I'm not so thankful.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.