OLYMPIA, Wash. — Skill or chance: Which is it when you play fantasy football?
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R- Ferndale, says fantasy football is a game of skill, and he wants the law to say so, as well.
If fantasy football is a game of chance, it is illegal under Washington’s gambling laws. If legislation declares fantasy football a game of skill, it becomes legal under the state’s gambling laws. Small informal leagues among friends have flown beneath the radar on this issue.
Rob McKenna, former state attorney general and a lobbyist for DraftKings and FanDuel, testified that fantasy football is a game of skill at a Wednesday hearing by the Washington Senate’s Commerce, Labor & Sports Committee. DraftKings and FanDuel are two nationwide operations that hold fantasy football contests with hundreds and thousands of players, conducted via the Internet.
The only other person to testify was Maureen Greeley, executive director of the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling. “Although there is skill involved, we do believe there is a significant amount of chance,” she said. Her organization is neutral on the bill, but wants consumer protections to be included.
Ericksen did not testify at the hearing. In late 2015, he said: “It is ludicrous that you can buy a lottery ticket in this state, pick through pull tabs at your local tavern, or spend an evening at the bingo hall or the card room, but you can’t draft a fantasy-football team. Huge numbers of Washington residents do it anyway. We need to see this as a weakness of state law.”
Ericksen and former Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, introduced two bills in 2016 to declare fantasy football a game of skill. Meanwhile, former Rep. Chris Hurst, R-Enumclaw, introduced a bill in 2016 to declare fantasy football a game of chance. None of three bills made it beyond the committee stage. Roach and Hurst tried again from the Legislature last year.
Ericksen’s 2017 bill would make fantasy competitions a games of skill. It also would require that prizes offered to the winners to be known in advance and not determined by the number of participants or the the amount of fees paid by the participants. Also, the winning outcome must not be based on the score, point spread or performance of a single real world team or combinations of teams.
Last November, FanDuel and DraftKings announced they would merge. McKenna speculated that merger would be complete by the end of this year. “I’m not involved in the merger. I understand it’s been very quiet (meaning no glitches) on that front,” he said.
Forty states have legalized fantasy football, he said, with seven doing so in 2016. McKenna said 51 million people have dabbled in fantasy football with about 8 million playing daily. Seattle and Redmond are the home of Fantasy Football Index, which is the nation’s oldest and biggest fantasy-football magazine, with 110,000 nationwide subscribers.