FanDuel, Draft Kings, and the Face of American Self-Loathing

I used to occasionally cover fights in Las Vegas and, as such, got a ringside seat (as it were, pun intended) to what real, deep-seated and chronic self-loathing looked like, being that Las Vegas was (and is) the self-loathing capital of the free world. Simply stated, Vegas is an easy place to ruin your life in a variety of ways.

So it was in the middle of like the 84th straight hour of advertising for “one-week fantasy football! get paid immediately!” that I realized what I was seeing in ad after miserable ad: The Las Vegas male. Both companies – FanDuel and DraftKings – offer legalized sports gambling in America, which you used to have to go to a sportsbook in a Las Vegas casino to do. Now it’s available to anyone with a computer, and this is why roughly an hour of every three-hour NFL telecast seems to be dedicated to ads for both companies.

The ads are the same in that they include a guy speaking who is supposed to look “regular” in that his face is a little shiny and a little bloated and a little bit like yours. He’s wearing a hoody or a t-shirt. He is 28 or 32 or 26 or 35 years old. He is the age you are. That’s the point. He probably, like you, spends his professional life glued to a computer and then, according to the ad, spends his free time glued to a different computer “just picking his players and getting paid immediately.” He has a slightly predatory look in his bulbous eye like if he were in Vegas for his buddy’s bachelor party and, you know, things went well he’d, you know, probably try to sleep with your cousin or your sister or your daughter and then go back to his suite and guffaw about it with his other friends who are also just picking their players and making money.

He’s super clever and so are his friends.

What’s disconcerting is that the youngish, dirtbag American male no longer has an obvious “look” inasmuch as he no longer has tattoos or long hair or some obvious “tell” – the likes of which your mother used to tell you to avoid. The new self-loathing American male probably went to college and has a decent job. What’s interesting is that they obviously and intentionally didn’t use attractive or charismatic people in these ads, rather, they cast the guy next door (subtext: your next door neighbor is just picking his players and getting paid immediately, so why aren’t you?).

Other images in the ads: Guys having fun in bars. High fiving. A giant cardboard check. Male guffawing. Money wafting down from the heavens. More male guffawing.

There’s something Pavlovian and also just plain relentless about these companies and ads. They’re on, literally, all the time during any sort of male-oriented television or radio programing. They’re just waiting for you to relent and enter the discount code. They know that you will, eventually. They know that you’ll be back next week because you want the games to quote unquote Mean Something and you think that putting a little money on these players will render meaningless games meaningful.

What they’re promising is, of course, “action.” And the role that action plays is that it promises to make otherwise boring lives a little less boring. Except that in pursuing the “action” (substitute booze, drugs, cheap sex, pornography, etc. here) the pursuer always wakes up feeling a little bit less satisfied and looking a little bit more hollowed-out and Vegasy and sad in the same fashion as the guys in these ads. Somehow, you know it isn’t going to go well for the guys in these ads. You intuit that they’re probably mediocre at their jobs and their wives probably hate them for extremely legitimate reasons. Even though it is raining cash on their heads, in the ads, something inside reminds you that you’re looking at a loser.

You may be asking, “What makes you any different, Kluck?” And my answer is absolutely nothing. I have known just enough of potentially life-ruining Vegas-style idiocy that these ads are actually terrifying to me. Looking at the guys in these ads is like looking in the mirror at an un-redeemed, un-Christ-like, bitter and hopeless version of myself. It’s chilling.

There’s nothing as sleepless and dissatisfied as a Las Vegas morning. The only answer to it is to take a hot shower and get on an airplane as quickly as possible, so you shuffle into the airport and find your gate, walking past other miserable looking guys exactly your age wearing your super-unique t-shirt and your facial hair who are miserable for exactly the same reasons – because the action they so desired left them feeling dissatisfied and guilty.

It’s hard to end an article like this without becoming overtly evangelical and, in doing so, probably turning some people off. But really the only way to end it is by saying that with each passing day I’m reminded how much I need Jesus, and how much I want to be with my Father. We live in an era that offers absolutely everything. There’s no desire, really, that I can’t fulfill with a mouse click. Except the desire to be able to live with myself. To be able to look in a mirror and not see Super Clever Vegas Man looking back.

Ted Kluck

Ted Kluck is the author of many books, on topics ranging from Mike Tyson to the Emergent Church. Both "Why We're Not Emergen"t and "Why We Love the Church" (with Kevin DeYoung) won Christianity Today Book of the Year awards, and "Paper Tiger: One Athlete's Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football" won a Michigan Notable Book award in 2008. His work has also appeared in ESPN the Magazine and Christianity Today. Ted has played professional indoor football, coached high school football, trained as a professional wrestler, served as a missionary, and taught writing courses at the college level. He lives in Grand Ledge, MI with his wife Kristin and sons Tristan and Maxim.