OLYMPIA – Although playing fantasy sports games is one of the fastest-growing activities in the country, such games are illegal in Washington.
The state outlaws small fantasy leagues among friends for an entire season as well as daily bets for thousands of dollars run by a billion-dollar industry with ties to major telecommunications networks and professional sports. But making those activities illegal doesn’t prevent state residents – some experts estimate their numbers in the hundreds of thousands – from playing.
On Friday, a Senate panel began considering whether Washington should draw a line somewhere. A proposal by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, would allow groups of as many as 50 people to pay as much as $50 each to enter leagues that cover all or most of a professional sports season. But it would continue to ban the international operations that have proliferated on the Internet and allow people to enter contests on a daily or weekly basis.
Roach called it an evolving bill trying to distinguish between gaming and gambling. It would allow friends or co-workers to operate a league and allow them to “trash talk” around the water cooler.
The Legislature should even ask Congress to ban the operators of daily games like FanDuel and DraftKings from television advertising, Roach said, just as it bans cigarettes, because the commercials send the wrong message to children.
Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna, who now represents the fantasy gaming industry, argued there’s very little difference between the daily games and the more traditional season-long games. Both are games of skill, not chance, McKenna said; if anything, daily games require more skill for players to keep up with statistics to select their team.
For a $3 bet on a fantasy NFL football team, a fan can get “a whole weekend of entertainment,” he said.
“Fantasy sports have become our new national pastime,” McKenna said. “It’s a form of entertainment that gives fans a deeper appreciation for the sports they love.”
The attorney general of New York recently ordered FanDuel and DraftKings to cease operations in that state, which has gambling laws almost identical to Washington, representatives of the state Gambling Commission said. McKenna said that decision is “off the mark” and predicted litigation will follow.
Other witnesses debated whether daily contests involved more skill or chance. Bruce Taylor of Fantasy Football Index magazine argued in favor of skill. Fantasy sports were an early form of social media, before Facebook or the Internet, he said.
But Ian Ritchie of Scout Media, an online service, said the daily games are definitely more subject to chance, and incorrect information or a situation like a broken water main at a ballpark can determine winners and losers.
Although a player can make a wager as low as $3, some of the sites operate games with entry fees as high as $26,500, said Chris Grove of the Legal Sports Report. Large media corporations and some major league operations have invested a total of $1 billion in fantasy sports and are spending $500 million in marketing this year. An estimated 50 million players will risk up to $3.8 billion on the games this year, he said.
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