Why Betting on Fantasy Football May Not Be a Felony Next Year

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Jan 20

Lewis & Laws

Why Betting on Fantasy Football May Not Be a Felony Next Year

by Lewis & Laws

Though casinos are a common sight up and down I-5, Washington State’s Gambling Commission has tight restrictions on where and how people can gamble. Included in those laws include a ban on fantasy sports that involve money—much to the chagrin of many 12s who are bombarded by ads promising big payouts every weekend, but aren’t permitted to participate.

However, there’s a chance that by the time the next season of Seahawks football kicks off, local fans may be able to draft Russell Wilson and win money as a result—at least in a small league among friends, anyway.

Why is Betting on Fantasy Football a Felony Now?

Currently, many states allow sites like Fanduel and DraftKings to operate in their full capacity—meaning that players can create fantasy teams and win money when their players perform well. This is largely because those states consider fantasy a game of skill, not luck—and therein lies the issue here at home.

Under Washington State laws, fantasy sports have been determined to be a game of chance, which means that technically, fantasy football is gambling. And, because all gambling must be permitted by the state, any wagering of money on games of luck is considered illegal gambling and thus, a felony.

Because Fanduel and similar sites are fully barred from operating in the state, the bulk of fantasy betting happens between friends and off the books—i.e., illegally—however, last year, Washington State Gambling Commission chairman, Chris Stearns told the Tacoma News Tribune that he didn’t know of any prosecutions based on fantasy teams.

Will the Laws Change?

Numerous lawmakers in Olympia have tried to find support for legislation that would ease the laws on fantasy sports by determining them to be a game of skill. And, despite bi-partisan sponsorship, a bill about fantasy sports didn’t even make it out of committee last year.

Supporters in the legislature will have another chance this year, though, as lawmakers reconvene in January for a short session—when they’re expected to bring the issue back to the table.

Even if the new law is passed which determines fantasy football to be a game of skill, rather than luck, sites like Fanduel still most likely won’t be able to operate, because online gambling is still very much illegal in Washington. Instead, say sponsors, local sports enthusiasts will be permitted to place small bets in closed leagues among friends, and may not be able to trade players as frequently as they would on sites where luck is more involved.

Additionally, the company has been getting hit hard by other states, including New York, and recent takedowns of the billion-dollar industry have begun to turn fans against these big platforms.

Regardless of the future of Fanduel and DraftKings, Seahawks fans who want to win a little spending money among friends should remain cautious about where and when they place bets; off-books betting is still a serious crime in Washington State—whether it’s SuperBowl season, March Madness, or spring training.

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