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DraftKings’ UK License Approval Blurring Legal Gambling Lines

Whatever it is that defines “gambling” in the legal sense came into discussion this week with the announcement by US-based daily fantasy sports (DFS) giant DraftKings that it had received an operator’s license from the United Kingdom Gambling Commission to offer its DraftKings-branded DFS games to UK punters.  DraftKings had applied for the license back in June, and issued a brief presser yesterday (appended at bottom) upon receipt of the UKGC’s formal approval.

draftkingsThat’s all good news, both for DraftKings and for UK punters, who haven’t yet fully embraced the format but show some early indications of wanting to check it out.  Daily fantasy sports, of course, is a specific, individual-results-based competition designed specifically to skirt around the widespread US ban against organized sports betting, which exists as a complete blanket in 46 of the 50 US states.  DFS works by having its bettors wager on individual players, rather than teams and teams’ results, thus avoiding the legal clampdown placed on traditional sports betting by a half century and more of US laws.

Of course, DFS is “gambling,” despite its mathematical, skill-based nature.  The real reason its legal in the US is that prominent corporate interests (including ESPN) were willing to fight the issue the first time the issue it came up in the US courts a decade ago, in the Mastercard case which limited the 1961 Wire Act to traditional sports betting only.  DFS was in essence built upon that court ruling.

In the UK, no such legal shenanigans were required.  DraftKings doesn’t even have to argue that its supposed non-sports-betting form of… well… sports betting, doesn’t violate some obscure UK laws; the company’s just gone ahead, applied for, and received the license.  It’s all very straightforward, as it should be.

What it does do, however, is stick a thumb in the eye of US justices and legislators who continue trying to keep American sports-betting bans on the books.  It is, though, a bit of a risk, since the entire US-centric DFS industry is based on the status quo remaining intact.  Should traditional sports betting become legal in more US states, as New Jersey is trying to force to happen through the courts, then more traditional — and arguably less time-intensive — forms of sports betting will likely dominate, to DFS companies’ woe.  (They could, of course, transition their offerings.)

There’s also the risk, as some observers have noted, that certain conservative and anti-gambling forces could attempt to stamp out DFS specifically, through a host of new federal and/or state laws.

It’s funny, though, that in applying for the UK license, that DraftKings doesn’t have to bother with the pretenses regarding what defines certain forms of gambling.  Of course DFS is gambling; it is and always has been as such.

The whole episode reminds those with a sense of history of a classic US pornography case from the 1960s, in which a Cincinnati theater’s attempts to show an artistic “porn” movie ended up in a legal battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In a concurring opinion when the Supreme Court finally issued its ruling, Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote that the US Constitution’s free-speech protections covered everything except “hard-core pornography.”  And as to what exactly was hard-core porn, Stewart could only write, “I know it when I see it.”

Just as we can know and see that DFS is gambling, whether artificial constructs are in place to keep it from being called “sports betting” or not.  Such legal and legislative stupidity marks US law, as it always has.

Anyhow, moving on.  Former PokerStars and bwin.party exec Jeffrey Haas announced a couple of weeks back that he was leaving the moribund bwin.party for a new opportunity.  The veteran gaming exec has now announced his new post, and its with DraftKings, heading up the newly planned UK operation.

Here’s the official DK release:


DraftKings Announces International Expansion

Leading Daily Fantasy Sports Destination to Open Office in London, Hires Industry Veteran Jeffrey Haas as Chief International Officer

BOSTON, Aug. 17, 2015  — DraftKings, Inc., a leading skill-based daily fantasy sports destination, today announced the company has been granted a license to operate in the United Kingdom and will open its third office, in London, by the end of 2015. DraftKings expects to be operational in the UK in the fourth quarter, with launches in additional markets, including Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America, planned for 2016.

“Our expansion into the United Kingdom marks a milestone moment in the growth of DraftKings as we introduce our world-class product to new audiences,” said DraftKings Chief Executive Officer Jason Robins. “We will add new sports and games to our burgeoning roster of offerings and further connect fans to their favorite teams and players. We also welcome the opportunity to forge new partnerships with leagues, teams and media outlets internationally as we have done with exceptional success in the United States.”

DraftKings’ worldwide expansion will be led by newly appointed Chief International Officer Jeffrey Haas, a business development veteran with experience in opening markets for new gaming products across the globe. Haas will manage the London office, including the hiring of more than 20 new positions in customer acquisition and retention marketing, communications, analytics, compliance, business development, and corporate partnership roles. Job openings in DraftKings’ London office may be found at http://careers.draftkings.com/.

“DraftKings is well-poised for explosive growth internationally, and I am excited to lead their expansion efforts,” said Haas. “Daily Fantasy Sports is a growing category outside North America, and we have a tremendous opportunity to engage sports fans around the world. We will look to maintain our leadership position in the Daily Fantasy Sports industry – creating innovative games across the most sports, providing our players with elite customer service and fostering mutually-beneficial relationships with our partners.”
For more information on DraftKings’ launch in the UK, visit https://www.draftkings.co.uk/.


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