In Thursday’s Benghazi Hearing, Hillary Clinton scored a solid “Boring” with no-self-incrimination, and a probability of partisan fringe conspiracy theories. This was the highest possible score for Hillary, and a big upset for the GOP. However, due to the growing industry of fantasy politics, Clinton was not the only winner. In just a few years, fantasy politics betting sites have grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. If you watch TV, you have probably seen advertisements for companies like FanPoll or CapitalBillz, citing their $200 bonuses or their lack of session-long commitment. However, some are questioning the ethics of betting on political hearings and court cases.
“It doesn’t seem right, considering innocent people died.” said Barbara Huttings of Schenectady, New York. “On the other hand, I am a single mother of two and only have a minimum-wage job. Thanks to Clinton being a stone wall for eleven hours, we were able to buy mouthwash this morning. If Obama ends up invading Syria, we’re getting Whitestrips.”
Jeff Lunders is the CEO of DemocracyDuel, a fantasy politics betting site. When we questioned Lunders about allegations that sites like his were unlicensed gambling, but disruptive to the democratic process, he commented, “Under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, fantasy politics sites are completely within legal bounds. Also, when did politics ever work for the common person? Unlike on the Hill, DemocracyDuel is a place where politics almost literally work for you.”
We asked Lunders about suggestions that many of the people winning on his and other fantasy politics betting sites are insiders that actually work for his company or its competitors. “Sure, many of the people that work in the industry are players themselves. I’ve been known to bet on committee or two myself,” Lunders said joyfully. “People that like to bet on politics are the kind of people that this industry attracts. But look it up, almost anybody can bet on almost anything political. DemocracyDuel makes a point of putting the blood money of politics into the hands of the everyday Jane and Joe.”
Following this interview, intrigued by Mr. Lunders’ suggestion to look up what kinds of things one could bet on using these sites, we decided to investigate. The options of what you can bet on does seem endless; everything from how many times Trump will say “China” his next speech to how many oil spills will devastate fragile ecosystems this year without media attention.
Then there’s the winners. An Illinois man won $440 for betting that Ben Carson would say something inaccurate about established science in his latest campaign speech. A Tennessee woman raked in just short of $6000 for betting that Planned Parenthood would stop accepting compensation for fetal tissue donations. It seems like every day there’s another winner in another state, capitalizing on some political nightmare. Most of us have long ignored such politics in order to remain functioning members of society—most of us, but not all of us.
After looking into the social media accounts of a range of winners, a trend emerged. Most winners had two things in common: a zealous enthusiasm for politics, and a social media presence bordering on irresponsible. They argued blindly and irrationally, grammar rules flying, with those on the other side of the aisle who employed the same tactics. Most winners tended to create posts on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram an average of twice an hour, or 40-50 posts a day; their non-political public musings trending towards inspirational quotes from the Bible, Marilyn Monroe, and Thoreau.
We contacted Jill Havana of Jacksonville, Florida who won $493.87 on FanPoll after betting that the US would be responsible for accidentally bombing a hospital in Afghanistan this year, and when asked how she spends her days, she replied, “I generally watch ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ over and over while I look for false flag conspiracy theories and memes about being Country Strong. Just like my hero, Miranda Lambert, I say and do whatever I want. If you don’t like it, then fuck you.”
Next we placed a phone call to Frank Medoff of Fort Collins, Colorado who quit his job to pursue self-employment in fantasy politics. Medoff recently won $45 on CapitalBillz for betting that over twenty people would say, “All Lives Matter” in the comment section of Bernie Sanders’s Facebook post about Black Lives Matter. He was happy to hear the voice of somebody speaking directly to him, and his excitement was audible. “Me? I have my coffee when I wake up a 5:30 AM and I try to get to work by 6. I bet all day, while occasionally taking a break to find a Theodore Roosevelt meme. After I can’t work anymore, I listen to NPR while yelling until I go to sleep. If there’s one thing I know, it’s the inner-workings of Planned Parenthood.”
Looking deeper, past the self-identified “Dorito-people” (another common trait of frequent betters), what we found was startling. A full 93% of winners that hadn’t posted an inspirational meme in the past month actually either worked on the campaign of a nominee for the 2016 presidential election or worked at fantasy politics betting website. One such contestant was Susan Philmoore, an intern for the Clinton campaign who won over $75,000 on the Benghazi Hearing. Philmoore did not respond to multiple requests for comments. We were able to get a statement from her sister, Daisy Philmoore, who said, “I bet on the hearing and won also. Susan is always talking about how good Hillary is at being boring regardless of fatigue or extreme pressure.”
Are sites like FanPoll, Capital Billz and DemocracyDuel fair? If someone that works on Capital Hill wins on a fantasy politics betting site is that insider trading? Did you bet on this article? Tell us in the comments.
Nicholas O’Connor is a writer and comedian based out of Boston MA.