John Oliver Has Rewritten Those DraftKings & FanDuel Ads For You

With daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel in a high-profile legal battle with New York state over whether they are a form of unlicensed gambling or games of skill, HBO’s John Oliver has released his own version of the sites’ infamous “anyone can win” ads.

If you’ve watched TV at all in the last six months, you’ve definitely seen ads for DraftKings and FanDuel, trotting out average-looking sports fans who have rung up hundreds of thousands — in some cases, millions — of dollars playing daily fantasy.

In the lead-up to the current NFL season, an ad for one of these sites popped up on national TV every 90 seconds.

“You only need to remind of something that often if your target audience is sports-loving goldfish,” said Oliver on Last Week Tonight.

These ads are particularly popular on the national broadcast and cable channels, because many of the biggest networks — NBC, Fox, ESPN, Time Warner — have some sort of investment stake or lucrative marketing deal with at least one of these sites.

“At this point there is almost no show that isn’t financially compromised by a relationship with daily fantasy,” pointed out Oliver. “In fact, HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner, which means that this joke about being compromised is, in a sense, being brought to you by FanDuel… Thanks guys.”

These ads portray daily fantasy as a contest in which any Joe or Jane Schmoe can win big, but some reports have indicated that upwards of 85% of players don’t win. Instead, the largest slice of the pie has thus far tended to go to a very small group of dedicated players with complex systems for tracking and comparing players and teams.

“Fantasy sports are effectively dominated by numbers nerds with sophisticated algorithms,” explained Oliver. “Which is great news for anyone who wished Moneyball could be a bit more boring. But it’s not great news for a casual player, and it somewhat undercuts the key selling point in their ads.”

Some of those daily fantasy whales are engineers, some are former Wall Streeters, and then there are those who come from the world of professional poker.

“If it attracts the same people and requires the same sort of skills, it’s safe to say it’s somewhat similar,” said Oliver, who noted that daily fantasy execs have compared their tournaments to poker tournaments — and DraftKings was even a big sponsor of a recent World Series of Poker. “They’re basically saying, ‘If you love gambling, you’ll love DraftKings… for completely unrelated reasons.'”

Of course, playing high-stakes poker is illegal in many states, and the online poker industry was dealt a big blow by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the 2006 federal law that prohibits banks and other financial institutions from doing business with illegal online gambling operations, but which includes a carve-out specifically for fantasy sports.

At the time, no one really paid attention to the fantasy exemption because neither DraftKings nor FanDuel existed. Instead, the exception was reportedly included to let small groups of players continue playing their often low-stakes, season-long fantasy games.

DraftKings and FanDuel contend the UIGEA covers their operations and that they are substantially no different than season-long fantasy. Oliver took particular exception to this comparison, saying that season-long fantasy pools are the same as daily fantasy in much the same way that a “nice mug of tea is the same as a baggie of heroin — both give you a warm feeling; one’s a little more intense.”

The big catch for daily fantasy, according to Oliver, is that winning a DraftKings or FanDuel tournament indeed takes an incredible amount of skill, which helps the companies with their legal argument, but the more the public becomes aware of just how difficult it can be to win on one of these sites, “the less appealing they become to the average player.”

To address what he sees as a lack of transparency in daily fantasy ads, Oliver filmed his own ad featuring Seth Rogen, Mike Birbiglia, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hahn, and Martin Starr. We’ve cued it up for you:

Did you enjoy this story? We’re a non-profit! You can get more stories like this in our twice weekly ad-free newsletter! Click here to sign up.