15 Oct

You can bet that this fall’s TV is all about gambling

We no longer have TV commercials for cigarettes. We concluded that smoking was dangerous to people, could have a bad effect on lives and wasn’t something we wanted to encourage between situation comedies.

Besides, this now leaves more TV space for advertising gambling.

On local television at the moment, gambling ads seem more pervasive than payday loan commercials. Bolstered by this year’s burst of advertising for the on-line sports fantasy betting sites DraftKings and FanDuel – according to CNN Money, more than $200 million so far in 2015 – fall TV is now all about gambling.

The fantasy spots join frequent ads from Northwest tribal casinos, now among the biggest tourist draws in the region. Those ads feature lots of young, attractive people, all of whom seem to be winning.

Then there are the Oregon and Washington state lotteries, bursting onto the local TV screens. The Oregon lottery, now a billion-dollar player in the state budget, currently offers not only its seasonal scratch-off ads but its own country-Western anthem to the state, “I Left My Heart in Oregon.”

Tony Bennett repeatedly leaves his heart in San Francisco, but that doesn’t seem to involve video poker.

Then there are the rollicking ads for Big Fish Casino, an in-line site with (following current U.S. law) no actual money at stake – although players can buy aps to help them play the games. (On-line gambling is legal in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, but only for bettors inside the state.) Big Fish is owned by Churchill Downs, owners of the Kentucky Derby racetrack and others. They might be speculating in gambling futures, positioning themselves for a time when, as in the United Kingdom, all Americans can gamble on their laptops, tablets and iPhones.

At that point, there may be no space on television for advertising anything else.

This year’s big explosion has been in spots for fantasy gambling, betting on the performance of bettor-assembled lineups.

“DraftKings and FanDuel have quickly become among the biggest advertisers on TV and the Internet,” Neil Irwin wrote recently in The New York Times, “with scenes of fantasy players celebrating their winnings.” In Oregon and most other states, it would be illegal (and this season, possibly unwise) to go on line and bet on the Blazers to win. But in Oregon and most other states (although not Washington) you can go on line and bet (again, perhaps unwisely) on a fantasy team composed of Blazers to outscore other fantasy teams.

Right now, of course, the customers are betting their National Football League fantasy teams, and the ads show them testifying to their huge winnings and beaming about how much more exciting Sundays are than back when they were just rooting for actual teams. As the company’s Facebook location boasts, “DraftKings is changing the way people experience sports.”

The bettors featured on the fantasy team ads are generally T-shirted young men, the folks likely to believe that they can guess which running back will have the best Sunday. In that way, the fantasy ads are different that way from the casino ads, which show carousing groups of festively dressed young men and women, sometimes with hints of the delights to follow when the couples finally depart the gambling floor for the night.

(Oregon Lottery ads don’t typically show people actually betting, although the public service spots piously urging you not to bet too heavily do.)

Fantasy football leagues used to be run by your friend who had too much time on his hands, but things have gotten far more corporate. According to Travis Houm on the Motley Fool website, DraftKings’ investors include Fox Sports, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer, while FanDuel is backed by the National Basketball Association, NBC Sports Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Time Warner/Turner Sports, as well as various NFL and NBA team owners. It seems lots of folks in the sports business are now doubling as bookies, although a few years ago the NBA got very self-righteous about an Oregon Lottery sports betting game.

Last week, after The New York Times revealed that a DraftKings employee, with access to activation statistics – the house always has an edge – had won $350,000 on FanDuel, the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts announced they would investigate. But since both states are, like Oregon, dependent on their own lotteries, they may just be going after a competitor.

Because these days, all over TV and the economy, everybody’s into gambling.

It’s enough to make you want a cigarette.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 10/14/15.

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