STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's another pastime that is supposed to be just for laughs, fantasy sports. Commentator Frank Deford points out they generate very real profit.
FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: In the famous Disney movie, a carpenter named Geppetto longed to have a son. He carved a puppet of a boy. And wouldn't you know it, the wooden Pinocchio magically became a real child. Fantasy games are the Pinocchio of sport, for all who play them become Geppettos. Isn't it the dream of every fan to construct his or her own team as Geppetto wanted to carve out a son? And fantasy sports allows that. You draft your own players for your make-believe team. And then you bet based on how your real players perform in real games. But then we call that fantasy - legal fantasy.
According to federal law - now, get this - it's legal for you to bet on your make-believe team when it plays other make-believe teams, even though you cannot bet on real teams when they play other real teams. The rationale is that in selecting players for your team - let's say some San Francisco Giants - your analysis of baseball qualifies the activity as a game of skill. But in contradiction, you can't legally bet on the actual San Francisco Giants as an entity, even though you would be applying the same skills to evaluate your wager.
It isn't just fantasy sports; it's fantasy jurisprudence. But it is hardly any dreamland. Fantasy sports are now estimated to be a $2 billion a year business in the United States with 57 million players. And each year, the numbers explode with more serious investors happy to broker the action. Just this month, Yahoo threw into the big time, booking games every day. Although, it is no fantasy that Yahoo will bank 10 percent of what they take in. To make it even more bizarre, while professional sports leagues have all taken hysterical stands against changing the federal law, which prohibits gambling on actual games, the sanctimonious leagues have entered into partnerships with major fantasy sites.
You have to wonder with a lot of fans if already fantasy hasn't begun to trump reality. A fan may root for an actual team, but it's only an emotional attachment. With his fantasy team, he's put cash on the barrel head - ah, for love or for money? Pinocchio eventually became a real boy. Geppetto's fantasy beat reality. Why, if the popularity of fantasy sports keeps growing, someday we may play real games just to support our fantasy habit.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.