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Kevin Cullen

Mass., DraftKings, Fan Duel living in a fantasy world

A DraftKings employee walked walked past screens displaying the company’s online system stats in its Boston office.
A DraftKings employee walked walked past screens displaying the company’s online system stats in its Boston office.(Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)

If there was ever a nicer Columbus Day than Monday, I don’t remember it. Mid-70s, cloudless skies, the sound not of leaves crinkling under foot but of Cowboys fans’ teeth gnashing.

And it got me thinking: by putting Spain’s money behind some big-dreaming Italian guy, was Queen Isabella gambling or playing a game of skill?

In Massachusetts, the answer would depend on whether we could get a piece of the action.

Consider the state treasurer, Deb Goldberg. She’s looking at all these fantasy sports sites, $4 billion in annual revenues, and salivating. She thinks the state of Massachusetts should get serious about getting into a business so far dominated by Boston-based DraftKings and New York-based FanDuel.

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Goldberg’s idea, like the business plans of the fantasy sports sites, is based on the theory that betting on the performance of individual athletes, as opposed to individual teams, is a game of skill, not gambling.

What a bunch of baloney.

All of this has become a big deal because a DraftKings employee made $350,000 betting with competitor FanDuel. Many bettors suspect the DraftKings guy had inside information.

DraftKings cofounder Jason Robins told this newspaper that his is “a very ethical company” that can regulate itself. I’ll give Robins points for chutzpah.

A joint statement put out by DraftKings and FanDuel, insisting everything they do is on the up and up, reminds me of the days when the Winter Hill hoods in Somerville and the wiseguys in the North End tried to reassure gamblers that the daily number based on the handle at the Hialeah track in Florida was legit.

Trust us, the wiseguys who crunched skulls used to say.

Trust us, the Internet geeks who crunch numbers tell us today.

The Number that was the bread and butter of the mob is now The Lottery. The biggest bookie in the state now is the state. The state put the mob out of business and usurped its gambling business.

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Now the same scenario is at play with fantasy sports.

There are several issues at play here, and most of them revolve around the utter hypocrisy of government labeling one form of gambling legal and another illegal and the utter joke of the fantasy sports industry insisting it doesn’t need regulation.

If you put money down on something and stand to gain more or lose what you put down, it’s gambling.

If you’re taking in a lot of money on wagers and paying out a lot less, you’re in the gambling business, not the game of skill business.

The hypocrisy of the professional sports leagues is breathtaking. Major League Baseball treats Pete Rose, one of the best players in history, like a pariah because he bet on some baseball games when he was a manager. But MLB has no problem partnering up with DraftKings.

In fact, all of the professional sports leagues want a piece of the action. At least NBA commissioner Adam Silver is honest enough to call for legalizing sports gambling.

Everybody else is going along with the fiction that fantasy sports betting isn’t gambling.

Goldberg says the state lottery is in a much better position to run an above-board sports fantasy game because it doesn’t allow lottery employees to play its games.

Left unsaid is that most lottery employees wouldn’t play even if they could because they, like the DraftKings guys, have inside information. They know the House always wins and the odds of winning the lottery are so slim that except in a few exceptional cases, you are throwing your money away.

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Massachusetts should regulate the sports betting industry now calling itself sports fantasy.

And tax the bejeebers out of them. It should punt the lottery to the private sector, too. No government should be in any business that is essentially a regressive tax and redistribution scam which disproportionately hurts those at the lower end of the economic ladder.

Besides, that’s what the IRS and Department of Revenue are for.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.