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Occupy Fantasy

A protest to lift New York's cease-and-desist on daily fantasy sports quickly devolved into a farce.
Photo by Aaron Gordon

The Fantasy For All protest began at 8 AM, a few blocks from Zuccotti Park, the site of the infamous Occupy Wall Street protests five years ago, an expression of the country's dismay with corporate America's undue influence in the political system to preserve record profits at the expense of the middle and working class, largely through favorable legislation and regulations. On Friday, some 200 people showed up to support two immensely profitable (inflated marketing budgets aside) gambling companies that fear new legislation will put them out of business. Later that day, DraftKings sued to stop the legislation.


The rally was organized by the Fantasy Sports For All Coalition (a real thing), in response to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's cease-and-desist order to the two Daily Fantasy Sports behemoths, DraftKings and FanDuel. Their slogan, "Fantasy For All"—or #FantasyForAll, as you might be better acquainted with it—encapsulates both intentional and unintentional levels of irony inherent in two gambling websites wrangling successful gamblers to voice their support for gambling all while insisting what they do is "real" even though it's called fantasy. All of which was on display outside Schneiderman's office Friday morning in downtown Manhattan.

Read More: The Daily Fantasy Sports Takeover

A few hundred people gathered on Broadway between Cedar and Pine Streets, putting the crowd somewhere between Shake Shack and Cronut lines. They were mostly men, mostly white—an indeterminate mix of fantasy sports employees, industry beneficiaries, and regular old Fantasy Joes. The protest was announced via email to NYC-area DraftKings and FanDuel customers. Some people were clearly there of their own volition, although it was tough to tell how many (as I write this, a fantasy sports conference is scheduled to take place later this afternoon in Times Square). No one brought homemade signs; those reading "SCHNEIDERMAN SHOULD FOCUS ON REAL PROBLEMS," "BENCH SCHNEIDERMAN THIS WEEK," and "SCHNEIDERMAN IS A TOTAL BUST" were provided by the Fantasy For All Coalition, along with lime green t-shirts and Dunkin' Donuts.


This sign is an existential nightmare. Photo by Aaron Gordon

While two young men with bullhorns led chants such as "Fantasy For All" and "Let Us Play!," a few well-groomed men in polished shoes, classy winter coats, and sleek haircuts paced around the perimeter. Occasionally, one of these well-dressed executive types would saunter over and relay instructions to the bullhorn men, like chant "Let us play" again. The guy with the bullhorn would duly oblige, although few in the crowd followed his lead.

A crew from The Daily Show was there, too—which, I thought, was just what the doctor ordered. Their correspondent came equipped with the goods: a protest sign with "BRO!" printed in giant letters, and another sign reading:





with the first letter of each word in big, rainbow-streaked font. There were others they wouldn't show me—a bummer since their signs were the morning's only redeeming quality.

It was difficult to tell how many of the protesters knew these guys were from The Daily Show, but it wasn't hard to figure out they weren't exactly on the up-and-up, especially when their correspondent took the BRO! placard and tried to get a BRO! chant going. He failed to muster significant support, but succeeded in getting the shot for his crew, and I suspect, the bit as well.

Although absurd, The Daily Show was setting up a fundamentally fair critique of the protest, which was also about getting a shot for a crew—the shot being discontent with a the cease-and-desist, the crew being the media, and the public as audience. To say the event was staged is an oversimplification. All protests are staged to some degree, but this one felt disingenuous. As The Daily Show has always done so well, the parody was more apt than reality. A single guy chanting "BRO!" in the middle of the Financial District will accomplish just as much as a few hundred sleepy dudes wearing football jerseys, eating donuts, and scanning their iPhones. The lobbyists will be the ones responsible for actually changing the law; this was just for us.


Here have a t-shirt or 20. Photo by Aaron Gordon

The Daily Show was hardly the only other media there. Before the protest started, a bunch of people came up to me and asked if I was with Corey's Crew, which is either the name of the best 1990s boy band or the worst. I wondered if the pre-made signs urging Schneiderman to focus on real problems applied to the media, too, but surmised not, since the people from the Fantasy For All Coalition were most accommodating, always eager to set up interviews.

However, I'm making the executive decision not to print any of the conversations I had with people there because it's impossible to determine, in that setting, what level of investment the protesters have in DFS. Even players who have played and won are at the top of a very large pyramid with an exponentially increasing base (hence the marketing budgets). It's a zero-sum game: the money they win has to come from someone else losing it. As far as I could determine, no one at this protest had lost a significant sum of money on DFS, on net, and still came out to argue for its existence. This leads me to the conclusion that, at the end of the day, I was watching 200 people who have won money rallying so they can keep winning money.

By 8:45, everything became repetitive. Even The Daily Show crew seemed to be getting a little bored. I pitied the pedestrians trying to get through, the cops who had to come out for this, the FanDuel employees standing by the back handing out t-shirts who could have otherwise been making valuable contributions to society. I couldn't help but consider this bastardization of free speech on a bit of a grander scale, in which a not-very-vocal group of people lent a voice for some brands that stood to lose a great deal of money. Every person has the right to assembly under the First Amendment, and, as the Supreme Court ruled, corporations are people, too.

Just as I was deciding what to do next, I saw a man with a pristine haircut, gold tie, maroon puffy coat, and pinstriped slacks interviewing a few eager protesters. They began to gather around the man. I realized the man was Darren Rovell, which I took to be a sign as good as any that the farce was complete, and that it was time to leave.