It’s probably mid-April, the height of the coronavirus in the Northeast, I’m sitting in my backyard in New Jersey, trying to get my mind under control. In the best of circumstances, I’m running on high anxiety. Some people are glass half-full; I’m glass broken on the floor. I need to zen out.
So — naturally — I hop on to BetMGM to play Ultimate Texas Hold’Em to distract myself. My wife and kids are inside, and I zero my attention in on the game. I hold no illusions: I know what casino gambling is. If the house didn’t have an edge, there would be no house. I’m playing 50 cents a hand, sometimes a buck or two. I rarely play casino games online or in person. I don’t like games where the odds are against me, no matter what “optimal strategy” I find out there on Google. But I will occasionally dabble, usually with promo money or the like.
But on this day, stuck under lockdown? It seemed like a good idea.
And while the details escape me, I hit a straight flush early on and banked something like $600. Poker genius, this guy.
This goes on for a few days, and I build the bankroll to almost $1,000. My semi-rational mind says, “Abort! Take the money! Put it into your DFS account!” (I did say “semi-rational.”) My irrational mind decided to take this — ahem — free money and go for it. I put a lot of money down. Like, 50-100 times what I was playing with days earlier. On three successive hands, I was dealt ace-something. On three successive hands, I went 4x, or all-in. On three successive hands, I lost. Farewell, profit. Hello, loss. My heart rate was north of “too fast.” It was not fun. I was angry, sad, felt stupid, you name it. Anyone who has ever tilted knows the feeling all too well.
And that feeling of overall dread hit me again last week when I saw a tweet from the DraftKings Casino account. It featured the meme of Matthew McConaughey from season one of True Detective. He’s holding a mobile phone at arm’s length, his eyes fall somewhere on the spectrum of “I want to kick a dog” to “I have killed before and I will kill again, shortly,” and he’s dragging on the tail end of a cigarette like he’s sucking rattlesnake venom out of his wife’s ankle. (He’s a very good actor.)
And the accompanying words to this meme from the DK braintrust? “Roulette wheel spins,” and then underneath is the word “Me,” indicating “me” is a person who is so cash deep in a game of online roulette that they are both A) murderous and B) smoking with such vigor they’re about to inhale their molars.
To be clear: Not cool, DraftKings.
Gamble responsibly, promote responsibly
There’s a few reasons for this, the most notable being that we here in the online gaming and sports betting space would prefer to see our little hobby become part of the American fabric, a bit of harmless fun, something to do to pass the time. Like gardening.
But tweets like these, which are, by default, advertising? This is not the angle we should be playing up. Degeneracy is not a good look.
This tweet comes on the heels of another controversial bit of social media, this one from Barstool Sportsbook’s Instagram account, in which they posted a picture of a toddler holding a sign that read, “Daddy, I need -3.5” with a caption that read, “Do it for the children.”
The post was spotted first by veteran gambling industry journalist Jessica Welman, and was subsequently deleted.
To be fair, I don’t have as huge an issue with the Barstool Baby. Sure, it’s in a poor taste and all, but it doesn’t conjure the same feelings of dread and danger.
Also, there’s this: Betting on sports, whether in person or online, is a solitary endeavor for the most part, and people who are good at it — or even just OK at it, or even a little lousy at it — are theoretically using skill to come up with their bets. Either they have some actionable intel, or they crunched the numbers, or they see an arbitrage opportunity. Bottom line: It’s not (always) completely random. Additionally, even when doing so online, placing a bet is a semi-methodical process. There are choke points.
Casino gambling? When done in a casino, it’s generally not a solitary endeavor, usually a big social deal, and outside of knowing how to play the game in an optimal mathematical way, there is zero skill involved. (Note to anyone who is shaking their head and getting ready to send an email detailing their “system”: Please send all correspondence to JustStop@YouHaveNoClue.com)
But online casino gambling? It’s a different animal. It’s so much quicker, and there’s no social safety net that would prevent someone from taking their $1 bets up to $100 and getting themselves to a point where heart palpitations ensue. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen in a real-world casino; I’m just saying the line between “a little bit of fun” and “hey, stupid, you just lost over $1K in 45 seconds” is much thinner online.
And for DraftKings’ casino Twitter account to use a meme to play up that angle, to basically encourage people to bet so much they’re feeling like their eyes are popping out of their head while they set a Guinness record for “fewest drags to the filter”?
Short-sighted and not good for the business at large.
The goal is gardening, guys. We want to be thought of no differently as gardening aficionados. A little dirty, perhaps, but otherwise chill.
Photo by Fer Gregory / Shutterstock.com