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Short Story: A DFS executive takes a dump on our beloved card game.

Earlier this month, FanDuel Chief Financial Officer Matt King granted Jason M. Breslow of an interview in which the former defended the Daily Fantasy Sports industry.

King — eager to classify DFS as a form of “entertainment” as opposed to “gambling,” had some interesting things to say about one of the Internet’s hottest real money wagering platforms. However, about midway through the interview, Breslow asked his guest for confirmation that the game of poker is skill-based, and received a flat No from the FanDuel executive.

The following is a direct quote from the PBS Frontline interview.

Jason M. Breslow: Well, it could be poker. Poker is a game of skill, right?

Matt King: No poker is not.

Jason M. Breslow: So you don’t think winning at poker involves skill?

Matt King: There is a lot of academic research on this, what’s the skill versus luck kind of spectrum. The reality is within poker, every time you shuffle the deck, it creates an element of luck that trumps it basically to being much more a chance-dominated game than a skill-dominated game. If you look at our data, the players that are good, are frankly consistently good. It is truly a game of skill. … Just like football or basketball. The more you practice, the better that you get. 

Peripherally speaking, King should get some genuine credit for inserting nifty catchphrases to uplift the overall image of DFS. I’ll take The More You Practice, The Better That You Get over online poker’s highly trending Lottery Style any day.

It’s ironic that DFS, arguably still in its early stages, is making a professional wagerer’s case for justifying its status as a skill-based activity — just like online poker did near its beginning. (I wonder how long it will take the DFS industry to vilify its most highly skilled customers.)

Yet, the obvious jab at poker that King took in February 2016 is the topic of this editorial piece.

Not overly motivated to start a pissing contest with the DFS industry (I have friends who are current or ex poker players that routinely compete on FanDuel), I’m going to focus mainly on King’s remarks about poker not being a game of skill.

And since this is an opinion-based article, I might as well let you know that I’m personally “all-in” for real money wagering online — regardless of whether that’s a game of poker, DFS, lottery-style Sit & Gos, virtual scratch tickets or pit games. The person who generally experiences the good and bad consequences of any financial decision is the individual, so it would make sense that a person should be allowed to decide on his or her own. Understandably this view does not necessarily reflect the opinions of my colleagues in the industry, yet there is probably something that most people involved in both poker and DFS can relate to in that line of thinking.

So with that out of the way, here’s my response to Matt King and his statement that poker isn’t a game of skill.

Poker Is A Game Of Skill

There is a certain degree of skill in competitive activity. That can be said for poker, DFS, athletic sports, and even pit games. And with that skill, also comes a degree of luck. A spelling bee contestant (as PBS Frontline’s Breslow referred to) could receive the only word in the dictionary that is unfamiliar, a chess player could get sidetracked by a chance interruption and play incorrectly, etcetera.

Calculating just how much a factor both skill and luck play in any given competition can be hard to pinpoint. However, both do in fact play a role even in long-term losing propositions like craps, where there are certain bets that offer less of a statistical disadvantage to players than others.

King argues that the random, luck-based shuffle of a poker deck “trumps” any skill that might take place once the cards are dealt. To back this up, the FanDuel CFO cites “academic research” (notorious for drawing conclusions based on sample sizes that would make a seasoned poker pro sidestep like Joey Ingram reacting to a 110lb. runway model) and “our data” (which is up for interpretation barring 100% complete information).

Even if online poker and DFS service providers simultaneously decided to up their fees to an amount which would make it impossible for any player to profit long term, the most highly skilled players for each platform would still lose less than those with lesser abilities.

I’m assuming King’s data isn’t on the block for public scrutiny (don’t worry, there’s quite a bit of this going around in the poker industry as well), so unless the math points to a clear, skill-based gap in favor of DFS compared to four-suited fishing, I’ll remain convinced there isn’t much of a gap at all.

Online Poker And DFS Regulation

Whether King’s argument will persuade government representatives to join DFS’ plight while sticking the shaft to poker is hard to tell. It could be much more practical to regulate/legalize all real money wagering activities online, but poker and DFS execs seem to agree that “playing the skill card” is the most effective method for getting a leg up in the legislative realm.

We’ll see.

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David Huber

David Huber has been involved in the poker industry for more than a decade: initially as a professional online poker player and later as an editor, consultant, writer, and forum manager. Known as "dhubermex" online, David's poker-related work has been heavily published across numerous websites since 2004.