Senate bill may allow state to gamble on fantasy sports leagues

By Alex Miller, Staff Writer

With the 2014 NFL season in the books, winning members of fantasy football leagues are looking to cash in on their success, but having money riding on a fantasy game is technically illegal in Washington because it is a form of online gambling.

States like Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and Montana have a similar law. This means anyone living in those five states that have money riding on the outcome of a fantasy sports game is committing a felony.

The website for the Washington State Gambling Commission states, “For Washington state residents, all gambling on the internet is illegal, including all types of sports betting.”
Although no one has been prosecuted, Senate Bill 5284, a bipartisan bill being campaigned for by Eric Pettigrew, D, Seattle, and Pam Roach, R-Auburn, would place fantasy sports games as games of skill..

“Our state sees fantasy football as a game of chance — a felony crime. Congress has long considered fantasy football to be a game of skill. My bill will change the state’s definition,” said Roach.

Roach is not trying to promote gambling in Washington, as she said, “We don’t want to expand gambling [because] that’s not what this bill is about. What we want is for our laws to mirror what the federal government has said.”

In order to mirror the federal laws on online fantasy betting, Washington state law would have to recognize fantasy sports as a game of skill, not chance.

Chris Stearns, chairman of the Washington State Gambling Commission said, “In most states, the fact that you’ve spent all this time pouring over stats and making your own spreadsheets, that’s the skill part, and that weighs most heavily.”

Washington is not one of those states, but it could be soon if Senate Bill 5284 is passed in the next election.

“This is about allowing people to do fantasy sports without being concerned of doing something illegal,” Pettigrew said.

However, students who have money riding on fantasy sports probably are not aware that what they are doing is illegal.

Rodolfo Cruz, an EWU junior, said, “It definitely did [surprise me to find it was illegal] because everyone does it. Betting makes the whole season much more competitive. You put more effort into your team knowing you can win money and bragging rights.”

Cruz said he thinks it could be illegal because, “Fantasy sports are pretty popular with kids. The reason why it’s illegal is so kids don’t gamble all their money away.”

Despite being illegal in some states, betting on fantasy sports online has become a popular hobby in America.

The popularity of fantasy sports has risen greatly, with “33 million people playing fantasy football each year,” according to Forbes magazine. There are also special programs on the NFL network that highlight just fantasy statistics, and “The League,” which is a television show about a group of people who play fantasy football.

“The explosive growth of fantasy football is rooted in the ability for fans to feel a special rooting interest in a team of players that they have selected,” according to Forbes. “Americans spend an estimated $800 million annually on all fantasy sports media products.”