Is It Legal to Gamble on Fantasy Football?

Football season is back! I would just like to congratulate my fellow football fanatics for making through another tough, football-less offseason1)when will the silly Europeans learn how much better tackle football is and starting training their athletes to play so we have gridiron action all year round?. More importantly for some of us, it is fantasy football season!

How did your draft go? How do you draft Adrian Peterson without any idea how he will play2)gotta be better than my Montee Ball play from last year…here is a free tip from someone who has watched Broncos’ football since the Elway [We love you John!] days: Do not take a Broncos’ running back. Just trust me. There is just no way to predict who will get the carries this year.?

Regardless, I suspect that some of you may be playing fantasy football for cash prizes this year…

 

 

 

Since the sports gaming entities have yet to be finalized3)Stay tuned to the blog for more information. My contact says they should be here in a couple weeks, the only means for non-Nevadan folks to wager on sports, supposedly, is through fantasy leagues.

All of our loyal, intelligent readers are asking themselves now: How is it illegal to bet on football, but legal to wager on fantasy football? The answer is what you would expect: a combination of governmental favoritism, arbitrary demarcations, and a lack of political mettle to do the right thing4)And perhaps a good faith mistake.

Let’s get a little more in depth.

 

Fantasy Football and the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act

In 2006, our friends in the Congress decided that this unregulated internet poker nonsense needed to end5)And rightful so. In turn, the Congress passed the Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act. Below is the pertinent part for our discussion:

`(6) The term `bets or wagers’–

`(D) does not include–

`(ix) participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization (as those terms are defined in section 3701 of title 28) and that meets the following conditions:

`(I) All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.

`(II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.

`(III) No winning outcome is based–

`(aa) on the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams; or

`(bb) solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.6)Source

 

Is your head spinning like mine is after reading that? I actually pulled that part of the law from the entry in the Logic Dictionary for “Distinction without a difference7)This is an inaccurate statement.  We have hit that far-too-common crossroads8)That we seem to be crossing more and more these days where we are trying to determine if the law was just poorly written, or drafted  entirely in bad faith. Per usual, I cannot tell. Maybe our lovely congress-folk have not the slightest idea what sports gambling is9)If this is true, why are they writing laws about it?. We will just assume that is that case, because the alternative is much more cynical10)As in, legislators drawing arbitrary demarcations in the law at the behest of special interests. Am in the wrong? Read this NY Post article about the law.

In reference to `(II) above, how do they think sports betters operate? The old, throw a dart at a couple of team names on the board and bet on the punctured organization routine11)Granted this routine needs a catchier name? Every (as in, likely without much exception) serious handicapper considers the “accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals” before making a sizable wager. Do the congress-folk think the serious betters just guess? They have to know better than that, right?

What about `(III)? This section, if I am to analyze this silliness in good faith, makes a bit more sense, if this law is supposed to be about preserving the integrity of the game and not regulating socially acceptable gambling. The thinking could be (all I can do is make my best guess at what they are going for, assuming good faith) that if the athletes are spread amongst multiple teams, impropriety is less likely to occur. Yet most fantasy teams have less players on them than the actual, real world teams the players work for. The larger the team, the less effect one individual has on the results. So this language is not all that logical either.

Also, most importantly, let us not get lost in the forest. This law is supposed to protect the public from internet gambling. How is the character of gambling any different if you bet on one team as opposed to a collection of players on multiple teams? This is the logical equivalent of legalizing heroin in pill form, but disallowing any derivation of the product that can be injected. Is the issue how the gambling/substance is consumed, or the consumption itself?12)Stay tuned for my post next week that will be done entirely in question form. Your move Ron Darling!

In reference to my point regarding the integrity of sport, former attorney13)Sorry Mike, if you are still in practice; though maybe he is like Paul Finebaum in that he pretends to have never practiced law. Mike Florio evaluates the bill correctly, in my eyes:

The hair-splitting and nonsensical distinction from Congress has made gambling on fantasy football as legal as gambling on stocks, which has spawned an industry that includes some very high-stakes fantasy leagues, some of which undoubtedly include NFL players.  But while it’s only a matter of time before word emerges of the involvement of NFL players in six-figure fantasy leagues, another potential complication could emerge when it comes to the non-gambling gambling of large amounts of money on fantasy football.

Peter King of TheMMQB.com explains that, during his training-camp tour, he has caught wind of “undue pressure some players and coaches feel from big-money fantasy-football players.”  Writes King, “I had one coach tell me there’s so much money in some of these fantasy-football playoff pools that people who used to gamble with bookies illegally are now gambling in high-stakes fantasy-football leagues, which is not illegal.” King adds that the “NFL has its antennae up over this, and it’ll be interesting to see if the pressure escalates to more serious threats on players or coaches.” 14)Source

 

Should this have been thought out more thoroughly? Likely yes. How can the NFL know if one of its players/coaches are playing in a high end fantasy league. Given the concerns above15)valid in my eyes, it is possible that legalizing only fantasy sports betting is much worse than leaving the general gambling prohibition in place.

It is also worth reminding folks that our sports books actually assist federal regulators in catching athlete’s point shaving, recall the Arizona St. scandal from the 1990s.

 

Will fantasy football gambling be legalized as part of a broader movement to legalize internet gambling?

We have trends going in both directions in regards to the question above; it is hard to speculate what will happen. Usually the rich and powerful are on one side of an issue, so it will be easy to see what will happen. There are movers and shakers on both sides of this debate, neither looking like they will give in.

Each side of the internet gambling debate are16)shockingly…don’t make me post that Casablanca clip again disingenuous in regards to the opposing views. On the one hand, the pro fantasy football  folks are making peculiar claims like fantasy football helps kids learn17)maybe more like fantasy football is a cheap/easy cop-out for teachers that are struggling to motivate their students. If your students are not engaged in world affairs, don’t you have some responsibility to show them why they should care? I cringe even writing that. Teaching is so,so difficult. Even still, ignoring the civics component of a public education is an error.

On the other side, Mr. Adelson’s friends against internet gaming18)no truth to the rumor that this was the initial name for the group are equally, if not more disingenuous19)and I say this as someone sympathetic to their views with such specious claims as “Internet gaming hurts union jobs”20)as we all know, union labor is a real passion of Mr. Adelson and “Internet gaming hurts farmers”21)Huh? I cannot even make a bad joke because the connection is so attenuated.

What can we conclude from all the name-calling? It will probably be a few years before internet gambling regulation is resolved at a federal level. Your best chance will be if the federal government becomes even more desperate for revenue than it currently is.

 

So is it safe to play fantasy football for money online?

This is not legal advice22)Note that this is a legal blog, not legal counsel. If you would like legal counsel on the issue, we have great attorneys here who will assist you. Just give us a call, more basic risk analysis. If it was me, and I was going to play fantasy football online, I would think very hard about what happened to the internet poker sites. If you recall, one day people of all ages23)Purposeful cliche were playing with the Caribbean-based sites, the next, they all got shut down. As you can read in the NPR article, all the folks with money in the accounts abroad had no access to get the money back, as all the property was seized. As you can deduce from the ambiguous text of the law above regarding fantasy football, is it conceivable that the DOJ could decide this fall that instead of going after online escort services24)They had quite the summer, they will direct their attention to fantasy football sites.

If you live in Nevada, this seems like an unnecessary risk as there are many companies that will allow you to wager, in-state, on football over the internet25)and unlike Wall Street, you will know the odds of your wager at the moment you make it. If you are out-of-state, it might be worth being patient for a few more weeks until the sports betting entities’ regulations are finalized by the Gaming Control Board. Coming this fall, you can wager with publicly traded companies (Las Vegas casinos) from throughout the country on football through a sports gaming entity. Pretty exciting stuff.

It is difficult enough to win at gambling, why gamble through a medium where there is also a risk that you will not get paid if you win? Think of it as an unnecessary parlay. One wonders if fantasy football gambling was legal in Nevada, why wouldn’t the casinos want some of the action?

Either way, best of luck this year. And Go Broncos!

 

These are two really great academic journal pieces on the history of fantasy football26)Yes, academia seems to be going in a strange direction

Harvard’s Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law

John Marshall Law School

 

Even more reading:

Forbes

RGJ

Politico

Washington Post

The Hill

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. when will the silly Europeans learn how much better tackle football is and starting training their athletes to play so we have gridiron action all year round?
2. gotta be better than my Montee Ball play from last year…here is a free tip from someone who has watched Broncos’ football since the Elway [We love you John!] days: Do not take a Broncos’ running back. Just trust me. There is just no way to predict who will get the carries this year.
3. Stay tuned to the blog for more information. My contact says they should be here in a couple weeks
4. And perhaps a good faith mistake
5. And rightful so
6. Source
7. This is an inaccurate statement
8. That we seem to be crossing more and more these days
9. If this is true, why are they writing laws about it?
10. As in, legislators drawing arbitrary demarcations in the law at the behest of special interests. Am in the wrong? Read this NY Post article about the law
11. Granted this routine needs a catchier name
12. Stay tuned for my post next week that will be done entirely in question form. Your move Ron Darling!
13. Sorry Mike, if you are still in practice; though maybe he is like Paul Finebaum in that he pretends to have never practiced law.
14. Source
15. valid in my eyes
16. shockingly…don’t make me post that Casablanca clip again
17. maybe more like fantasy football is a cheap/easy cop-out for teachers that are struggling to motivate their students. If your students are not engaged in world affairs, don’t you have some responsibility to show them why they should care? I cringe even writing that. Teaching is so,so difficult. Even still, ignoring the civics component of a public education is an error.
18. no truth to the rumor that this was the initial name for the group
19. and I say this as someone sympathetic to their views
20. as we all know, union labor is a real passion of Mr. Adelson
21. Huh? I cannot even make a bad joke because the connection is so attenuated
22. Note that this is a legal blog, not legal counsel. If you would like legal counsel on the issue, we have great attorneys here who will assist you. Just give us a call
23. Purposeful cliche
24. They had quite the summer
25. and unlike Wall Street, you will know the odds of your wager at the moment you make it
26. Yes, academia seems to be going in a strange direction
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