Thursday, October 11, 2007

Are We OK With This?

Liberty Media -- the company which owns the Atlanta Braves -- has just purchased a company called FUN Technologies, which bills itself thusly:

FUN Technologies is a market leader in two of the fastest-growing sectors of online gaming: skill gaming and fantasy sport services . . . FUN offers a wide range of skill games, which are offered over the Internet, as well as through wireless applications (mobile) and iTV (interactive television), and on stand-alone kiosks. Skill games are classified as ones in which the winner is determined based on the skill of the participants, rather than on chance.

That last bit -- game of skill not game of chance -- seems rather conspicuous in a "the lady d'oth protest too much" kind of way. There's a reason why that language is there, and that's because all of the states which outlaw gambling draw the line at "games of skill" vs. "games of chance," allowing the former and banning, or at least heavily regulating the latter. If companies like FUN want to do business most places, they can't be a gambling operation. They have to, I dunno, sell pinball machines.

Except the definition of what is a game of skill and what is a game of chance is decidedly gray. In my home state there is currently quite a battle raging over this. Some things that look an awful lot like slot machines are banned and other things that look an awful lot like slot machines are deemed hunky dory. Allegations of favoritism, the use of painfully nuanced definitions, and above all else confusion currently reign supreme.

But back to FUN. I have no idea whether their games are really games of skill or games of chance, but it's probably worth noting that the news release I linked above is from Online Casino News, and runs with the headline "Liberty Media Buys Online Casino Developer." At least someone thinks they're in the gambling business.

Question: given how sensitive baseball has been to anything having to do with gambling over the years (remember this?) shouldn't it care -- or at the very least say why it doesn't care -- that one of its owners now runs something that is described by at least one source as a "casino developer?"

Just askin'


TheHighFive said...

The most interesting part of last year's UIGEA is that it clearly says that "fantasy sports" is NOT gambling.

However, fantasy sports are most definitely gambling (isn't picking individual players and betting on how they perform just about EXACTLY the same as picking a whole team and betting on how it will perform?) I would say that fantasy sports may even be more of a gamble than regular sports betting. There are so many variables spanning an entire season of pro sports. The group of players that you "draft" before the season starts may not even last the whole season (every player you draft could get injured). You have no control over these players getting injured or not. You also don't have any control on how any of these players will perform on a game to game basis. It is entirely luck how your players perform. These are all reasons why playing fantasy sports is gambling.

This shows you the power of the MLB, NFL, NBA. AS you said, it is odd taht games that look like slots are allowed and other games that seem to be skill games are not. It's all about paying up with the right people. The government doesn't really want to stop gambling, they just want to get paid.

Pete Toms said...

Liberty Media's relationship with MLB is very complicated.

In addition to being in the gambling industry, Liberty also controls CDM Fantasy Sports which is in court with MLBAM over the use of players stats or more importantly the fact that CDM is not compensating MLBAM for the use of the stats. This battle has enormous financial implications for all sports leagues.

Liberty is also DirecTV and ( if my memory is good ) is planning to purchase a bundle of RSN's ( I can't remember where or from whom ).

I think Selig is cutting them a lot of slack because their ownership of the Braves is expected to be short term. What I've read indicates that they don't want to own a baseball team, it was a small component of an incomprehensible ( to me ) whopper of a deal with Time Warner.

There is always plenty of "grey area" when it comes to MLB and gambling. Selig has no problem with Marian Ilitch owning a casino, nor did he object to Steve Swindal being in the slots / horse track biz ( irrelevant now ).

I bet Schuerholz enjoyed being a GM a whole lot more working for Ted Turner than he did working for the mega corporations of Liberty & Time Warner. Ted's crazy but at least he likes baseball.