The $70 billion fantasy football market may be adding Florida to what is anticipated to be a growing list of states that are examining their respective gambling laws, and determining that the activity is a game of skill rather than one of chance.
It is estimated that 57 million people will participate in fantasy sports this year. Fantasy sports leagues and now daily fantasy sports (DFS) have taken sports betting into the stratosphere, and the industry continues to grow. With only week one of the NFL’s 2015 season having been played, advertising from fantasy football industry leaders and rivals, FanDuel and DraftKings, promising big payouts to players have already inundated television and radio markets with banners such as DraftKings “Millionaire Maker – Turn $20 into $2 Million,” and FanDuel’s “Turn $25 Into $1,000,000.”
Because of lingering questions regarding whether or not participation in such games violate Florida’s gambling laws, and despite assurances that they are legal, together the fantasy sports industry leaders have hired a prominent Tallahassee lobbying firm, according to a story obtained on St. Petersburg, Florida’s BayNews9.com. Following suit, Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) President, Peter Schoenke said it’s, “important to establish a presence in Tallahassee and begin educating legislators about the dynamics of fantasy sports,” and this summer hired lobbyist Brian Ballard and his firm. The FSTA estimates that 3 million Florida residents participate in either DFS or traditional fantasy football leagues operated by FanDuel and DraftKings which often have big money at stake.
According to Daniel Wallach, a well-known gambling and sports law attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, a Fort Lauderdale law firm, the increasing growth and revenue of the industry could invite scrutiny, saying, “As more money flows into fantasy sports and the character of the games begin to more closely resemble gambling (rather than an informal social game), the risk of a criminal prosecution heightens,” adding that, “As unlikely as that may seem to many, all it takes is one aggressive prosecutor or attorney general to jeopardize Florida’s lucrative and established fantasy sports market.”
While those in the fantasy sports industry utilize a carve out contained in the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, or Bradley Act, due in part to a 1991 opinion by Florida’s 33rd Attorney General Bob Butterworth that states that NFL fantasy leagues that offer cash prizes for fee-based contests based on performance of the respective teams is illegal gambling, leaves Florida’s legal situation unclear. Although no comment on the opinion was made by Schoenke, he did say that at the time the Butterworth opinion was issued, “fantasy sports was still in its infancy and well before it became our country’s new national pastime.”
According to a spokeswoman from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Whitney Ray, previous legal opinions are not rescinded by the office, there are no current investigations, and there are no plans to revisit the issue.
Participants and supporters of fantasy sports include major television networks, professional sports teams, and even the NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS, NASCAR, and the UFC. Currently, Kansas is the only state to pass a DFS law.