A major scandal is erupting in the multibillion-dollar industry of fantasy sports, the online and unregulated business in which players assemble fantasy teams with real athletes.

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A major scandal is erupting in the multibillion-dollar industry of fantasy sports, the online and unregulated business in which players assemble fantasy teams with real athletes.

On Monday, the two major fantasy companies were forced to release statements defending their businesses’ integrity after what amounted to allegations of insider trading, that employees were placing bets on information not generally available to the public.

The statements were released after an employee at the fantasy betting site DraftKings, one of the two major companies, last week admitted to inadvertently releasing data before the start of the third week of NFL games. The employee — a midlevel content manager — won $350,000 at a rival site, FanDuel, that same week.

“It is absolutely akin to insider trading,” said Daniel Wallach, a sports and gambling lawyer at Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “It gives that person a distinct edge in a contest.”

The episode has raised questions about who at daily fantasy companies has access to valuable data, such as which players a majority of the money is being bet on; how it is protected; and whether the industry can — or wants — to police itself.

The leagues have been swelling in popularity, their advertisements blanketing sports broadcasts.

The industry has its roots in informal fantasy games that began years ago with groups of fans playing against each other for fun and money over the course of a season. They assembled hypothetical teams and scored points based on how players did in actual games.

But in recent years, companies, led by DraftKings and FanDuel, have set up online daily and weekly games based on a similar concept in which fans pay an entry fee to a website — anywhere from 25 cents to $1,000 — to play dozens if not hundreds of opponents, with prize pools that can pay up to $2 million. Critics have complained the setup is hardly different from Las Vegas-style gambling that is normally banned in the sports world.

On Monday, DraftKings and FanDuel released a joint statement saying “nothing is more important” than the “integrity of the games we offer,” but offered few specifics about how they keep contests on the level.

A spokesman for DraftKings acknowledged employees of both companies have won big jackpots playing at other daily fantasy sites. Late Monday, the two companies temporarily barred their employees from playing games or taking part in tournaments at any other site; they already had prohibited their employees from playing on their own company sites.

“Both companies have strong policies in place to ensure that employees do not misuse any information at their disposal and strictly limit access to company data to only those employees who require it to do their jobs,” the statement said. “Employees with access to this data are rigorously monitored by internal fraud control teams, and we have no evidence that anyone has misused it.”

Industry analysts said the episode could leave the leagues open to further criticism they are too loosely regulated.

“The single greatest threat to the daily fantasy sports industry is the misuse of insider information,” said Wallach. “It could imperil this nascent industry unless real, immediate and meaningful safeguards are put in place. If the industry is unwilling to undertake these reforms voluntarily, it will be imposed on them involuntarily as part of a regulatory framework.”

Already, there has been intensifying discussion over whether daily fantasy games are pushing the boundaries of an exemption in a 2006 federal law that has allowed them to operate. The law prohibited games such online poker but permitted fantasy play — deemed games of skill and not chance — under lobbying from professional sports leagues. Residents of Washington and four other states cannot legally play games on DraftKings or FanDuel for cash prizes.

Because Congress did not foresee how fantasy sports would explode, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., recently requested a hearing to explore the relationship between fantasy sports and gambling.