Are Daily Fantasy Leagues Immoral?

October 29, 2015

Brad Hambrick

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Brad Hambrick

Three clarifications need to be made before you get into the substance of this post.

  1. I love fantasy sports leagues; particularly baseball and football. These are free leagues and the only “reward” is bragging rights with friends and co-workers. I consider them a healthy outlet for facilitating some light-hearted relational interactions and a stimulating way to enhance my enjoyment of sports.
  2. Fantasy sports and daily fantasy leagues are different types of games. Fantasy sports have been around for several decades and became increasingly popular with the advent of the internet. No money is required to play. Daily fantasy leagues are a relatively new enterprise that advertise major cash rewards for winners (click here for a brief history and recent law suit summaries). You’ve probably noticed the rapid increase in commercials lately.
  3. This is not a post about the legality of daily fantasy leagues, but only guidance on how to think about their morality in light of Scriptural teachings. Whether daily fantasy leagues fit the definition of gambling and, therefore, come under the same regulations, is a matter for individual states to decide. However, for clarity in how the leagues are referenced in this post, the growing consensus seems to be that these daily fantasy leagues do fit the legal definition of gambling.

As we seek to think well about this issue, here are the questions I believe to be most relevant:

  • Where is the line between entertainment, investment, and gambling?
  • Should a Christian be guided by morality or wisdom when it comes to gambling?
  • What are the signs that sins or folly are becoming slavery (addiction)?

One final question is worth asking, “Does this question merit discussion on a counseling blog?” Obviously I believe the answer is yes or I wouldn’t be writing this. But here is the reason – this is the kind of question that frequently comes up in counseling; fringe-moral-wisdom questions about seemingly inconsequential parts of life that cause discord in relationships or create imbalance in an individual’s life.

For this reason, I think how we discuss this question in this blog is as important for the reader to consider as what conclusion is reached.

Entertainment, Investment, and Gambling?

Every time we order a new dish at a restaurant we’re “betting money” we’re going to like it. Whenever we give to a charity we are “risking” whether the funds will have the impact we desire. We often “invest” time in initiatives that we are not sure will provide the outcome we desire. When a kid uses his own money to buy a pack of baseball cards not knowing if a player from his favorite team is in it, he is “gambling.” (If his parents buy the cards, it’s clearly an investment.)

Is it okay to “wager” time but not money? Is it acceptable to take “risks” for necessities but not luxuries; or within certain parameters of certainty? Would it matter if daily fantasy leagues were part of an “educational lottery”? What is the difference between an investment with uncertain results (i.e., stocks and mutual funds) and gambling?

Gambling is simply “taking a risky action in the hope of a desired result.” We all do this every day. We “gamble” time when we watch a movie we don’t know much about. We “gamble” emotional equity when we invest in a new relationship. Some of us are very risk-averse and find these experiences unnerving. Others of us are more entrepreneurial and enjoy them immensely.

In my assessment, I think we have to engage this first question from the standpoint of stewardship. Every good gift in our life is from God (James 1:17) and we are called to steward our entire life for God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31) which is the source of our ultimate joy (Psalm 37:4).

The key question regarding any “investment” activity becomes, “Is this use of time / money / talent that God has provided a good investment of the resources he has entrusted to me?”. If the answer is yes, “At what point would my investment of time / money / talent in this area begin to cause neglect in other areas God would desire me to invest in?”

When the answer to the first question is “no” or the answer to the second question is ignored, investment and entertainment (morally positive or neutral activities) would have become gambling (morally negative activity).

Wisdom or Moral Parameters?

The natural, first question here would be, “Are there biblical commands against gambling?” The answer would seem to be no. The closest biblical reference would be to casting lots and Scripture’s references to this practice seem to be morally indifferent. At its worst, casting lots was used to distribute Jesus’ garment at his crucifixion (John 19:23). At its best, casting lots was used to choose Matthias as the disciple to replace Judas once the finalists were reduced to two men (Acts 1:26).

I have heard gambling described as “stealing by mutual consent” and can appreciate the argument, but since “stealing” implies “non-consent” I don’t find it intellectually satisfying.

Scripture’s most direct discussion of the subject would seem to be that seeking to make lots of money quickly is generally dangerous for the soul and decreases our life satisfaction (Proverbs 13:11, 28:22; Ecclesiastes 5:10; 1 Timothy 6:9-10; Hebrews 13:5). From this, we can conclude that Scripture would highly discourage the primary motive most people have for gambling; Scripture seems to be saying the desire to to get rich quick is toxic to contentment and a strong work ethic.

Based on this, I would conclude that the best way to ask the question is, “Should a Christian play in daily fantasy leagues?” rather than, “Can a Christian play in daily fantasy leagues?” This question is not the equivalent of the moral question, “Is a Christian allowed to be unfaithful to their spouse?” but more akin to the wisdom question, “What is an acceptable amount of neglect one should be able to give to their health in order to eat foods they enjoy or avoid exercise?”

Based on these principles, I will share where I am on this question. I would not play in a daily fantasy league or engage in other forms of gambling. I personally could not justify this kind of stewardship of the finances God has entrusted to our family; neither do I believe a “big win” would be good for my character or as an example to my two sons.

At the same time, I would not be confrontational in a conversation with someone that did play in a daily fantasy league. I do not see this as the equivalent of bragging about cheating on their taxes, but more akin to wearing an “I ate the 5 pound burrito” t-shirt. However, if asked, “Since you enjoy fantasy sports and seem to know a lot about them, why don’t you play the daily leagues?” I would explain both the stewardship and character-shaping rationale for them to consider.

My encouragement to readers of this post is to seriously weigh the stewardship and character forming aspects of any form of gambling (which, by the definition above, we all do every day). Being willing to casually dismiss stewardship or character is of weightier importance than whether you do or don’t play in a daily fantasy league. If the question of total life stewardship became central to more Christians than debating the legitimacy of particular activities, the church would be a much healthier representation of what God desires the church to be.

When Does Sin or Folly Become Slavery?

There is at least one more question that should be addressed – What is the addictive quality of gambling? There are some individuals for whom the emotional thrill of a potential “big win” is literally captivating (i.e., takes them captive).

For this man or woman, daily fantasy leagues or any form of gambling would be wrong; based on the teaching of I Corinthians 6:12, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” When something is dominating or enslaving an individual, it is morally wrong for that individual even if it might qualify as a wisdom decision for others.

Here are indicators that participation in daily fantasy sports is enslaving and, therefore, should be abstained from permanently.

  • Lying – If you cover up what you’re doing, then you are revealing you are violating your conscience or are experiencing shame. An activity that leads you to other sins, in this case lying, should be avoided even if it doesn’t violate your conscience. If you can’t talk about an activity openly then it should be avoided (Romans 14:23).
  • Borrowing Money – You might be borrowing from others or yourself (i.e., pulling money from non-leisure parts of your household budget). In either case, pulling money allotted for more important purposes for entertainment is a red flag.
  • Chasing Losses – When you are gambling to catch up on previous losses you are entering a motivational feedback loop that has a high propensity for addiction. This also usually means you’re lying to people who are close to you.
  • Preoccupation – If your involvement in a daily fantasy league is one of your “stickiest” thoughts, meaning it’s become too important; even if it’s not an addiction. When thoughts about a preferred form of recreation are not something you can pick up and put down at will, they are taking on too large of a role in your life.
  • Planning Your Week Around Gambling – You can tell how important something is by what you’re willing to move in order to make room for it. When you begin to arrange your week around a fantasy sport (whether money is involved or not) it is becoming too important and creating an imbalance in your life.
  • Gambling as Escape – When an activity becomes your refuge from the stresses of life, it is replacing God. One of the great moral tragedies of sin is when we begin to pray to our sin.

These criteria are not just relevant for daily fantasy leagues or gambling. They are pertinent for any wisdom-based decision that has the propensity to become a personal obsession or behavioral addiction; that is, any secondary enjoyment we are prone to build our life around.

We all face wisdom decisions every day. We all have forms of enjoyment that aren’t essential to God’s mission for our life and are prone to become enslaving. To be balanced, we all also benefit from having recreational outlets and invest some form of financial or time capital into them. Therefore, we need to be able to think well about these kinds of issues and be open to having conversations with one another about them. I hope this post contributes to more of these kinds of conversations.

Join the Conversation

  • If not daily fantasy leagues, where might you need to apply the principles of this post to your own life?
  • How would you have a conversation about this subject with a new believer who hasn’t begun to think of stewarding their entire life for God?
Brad Hambrick

About Brad Hambrick

Brad is Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church in Durham, NC. He also serves as an adjunct professor of biblical counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Brad has been married to his wife, Sallie, since 1999.