Fantasy Ethics: Cheating on FantasySCOTUS?

February 25th, 2010

In the four months since I launched, nearly 4,000 people have signed up, and made nearly 8,000 predictions for the 81 cases currently pending before the Supreme Court. When designing the system, I decided to allow people to make predictions up until the moment a case is decided by the Supreme Court. On days when opinions are handed down, I lock down the voting once I see that the Court has issued an opinion for a specific case. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court announced Maryland v. Shatzer at 10:00 a.m. I did not lock down the votes until around 11:30 a.m. In this period, several members changed their votes to get more points.

Really? Cheating on a Fantasy League with no cash prizes? What would motivate someone to do this?  And what should I do about it?

The league does not have any rules against cheating. When crafting this league, I thought it was pretty obvious that people should not cheat. In fact, I designed this league based on the honor system. On the Sign Up page, I wrote:

“I realize the danger of creating a Web Site aimed towards attorneys based on the Honor System, but I have faith in humanity. Further, I am a recent law school graduate earning a government salary with a significant amount of student debt who paid for this site out of my own pocket. Play fair.”

Apparently, people don’t play fair. Beyond the cheating on the predictions, I am also fairly certain that many people took advantage of the free registration for students and unemployed attorneys. It is probably not a good idea to use a law firm e-mail address when signing up for one of these gratis accounts.

With respect to the offending members, I confronted them, and they admitted their wrongs. After hearing their story, I banished them from the realms of FantasySCOTUS. No, I won’t out them, so don’t ask.

Why would people cheat on a Fantasy Supreme Court league? What excuses did the cheaters provide? Is my faith in humanity rocked? And, is this as bad as stealing oreos from a hotel minibar? My thoughts on the ethics of cheating on fantasy leagues, at

Quick Note for readers in Washington, D.C.. I will be giving a talk on McDonald v. Chicago, the upcoming Second Amendment incorporation case, at the George Mason Law School on March 1 at 12:00 p.m., and providing post-argument wrap up of McDonald at Georgetown University Law Center on March 2 at 3:30 p.m.. Details here.

One offender wrote:

“Damn, I thought I could get a few more points! I did have the right outcome to begin with, just not the exact votes, and I was innocently checking my latest scores this morning when I noticed your oversight.”

Interestingly, this member tries to blame me for failing to lock down the voting promptly. I suppose this would be akin to blaming the shopkeeper for failing to keep an eye on the cash register when he steps out for a minute. What else is one to do but take advantage of this inattentiveness? Especially when you can get a few more points in a fantasy league.

Another offending member wrote:

“Yeah. I always check my predictions when the opinions come out. I saw that I bit it on this one and switched it. Feel free to keep my account disabled. Seems like a fair punishment.”

This response is more reasonable, but still flawed. This member saw the opportunity, and grabbed it. But, when caught, he acknowledged his wrong, and accepted his punishment.

I will not make this mistake again, and will lock down all voting on any day in which the Supreme Court announces it will issue opinions. Lest my “oversight” coerce members into cheating.

My final advice: Play fair.