Sen. Pam Roach, R- Auburn, and other lawmakers are working on legislation to legalize at least some forms of fantasy sports so people playing the games aren’t breaking the law. They just don’t agree on how.
OLYMPIA — Playing fantasy sports to win money in Washington is illegal.
That means daily fantasy games like the popular ones run by DraftKings and FanDuel aren’t allowed. It also means informal seasonlong leagues — Sen. Pam Roach, R- Auburn, called them “water cooler fantasy-football” leagues — are banned, too.
That hasn’t stopped people from playing, though. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated, based on a survey, that a little more than 1 million people in Washington played some type of fantasy sports last year. DraftKings and FanDuel are members of the association which advocates for the fantasy-sports industry.
“You can’t police it,” Roach said. “You can’t keep people from doing an office pool.”
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Roach and other lawmakers are working on legislation to legalize at least some forms of fantasy sports so people playing the games aren’t breaking the law. They just don’t agree on how.
Roach has proposed a bill to allow participation in seasonlong fantasy leagues where no more than 50 people pay no more than $50 to play. Roach would define playing in those leagues as games of skill, rather than chance. Games of chance are considered gambling, and are illegal.
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, has a measure, House Bill 2370, that would expressly prohibit people or companies from offering all types of fantasy sports, though he says informal seasonlong games are de-facto legal right now and would stay that way if his bill is passed. His bill, which has a hearing Monday in the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming, would make advertising fantasy-sports games a class C felony.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has introduced Senate Bill 6333, that seeks to legalize all fantasy-sports games by calling them games of skill, including daily games hosted by sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings.
“I don’t think that mature Washingtonians who are above the legal age should be prohibited from participating in these activities,” Ericksen said.
The fantasy-sports organization supports Ericksen’s bill, according to chairman Peter Schoenke. Schoenke says daily fantasy-sports matchups are contests of skill just as much as informal, seasonlong leagues.
Hurst said playing daily fantasy-sports games is gambling, and daily fantasy operations need to stop advertising in Washington because their product is illegal and preys on problem gamblers.
Schoenke said the association doesn’t consider daily fantasy sports as a gambling product, and therefore are not illegally advertising. He said the organization is “cognizant of problem players.”
Small-time leagues among friends may have payouts in the hundreds, but DraftKings and FanDuel are big business; combined, they made more than $3 billion in 2015.
The sites have been challenged in some states.
In New York, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit this month asking the sites to return all the money made in the state because he said the sites are an illegal gambling operation. The sites stopped running in Nevada after the state’s gaming commission said daily fantasy sports are gambling and the companies require licenses to operate there.
A November 2015 report by staff from Washington’s gambling commission said major fantasy-sports operators are in 44 states. Six other states do not allow sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel: Washington, Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Nevada.
No matter their differences on daily fantasy sports, lawmakers trying to tackle fantasy sports seem united in pushing to allow small-time fantasy football pools.
“I think fantasy sports are a good thing in society,” Hurst said