Is it Legal to Play Fantasy Football For Money?

Now warming up: the fantasy sports’ lobbying team.

Everyone’s eyes are on the United States Congress to see which way it might go in terms of grappling with online gambling — including the virtual sport lovers. One particular piece of legislation could ban online gambling throughout the country, and the debate has set the entire fantasy industry into motion to make sure it isn’t benched.

Reps Looking to Blow the Whistle on Digital Gambling

Congressman Jason Chaffets (R-Utah) and U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have teamed up to draft a bill that would ban online gambling across the country, playing off similar moves that some states have already taken themselves.

According to the bill, all poker, blackjack and other online games would become illegal when it comes to gambling. The Restoration of America’s Wire Act (H.R. 4301), the lawmakers said, would undo a 2011 Justice Department ruling that allowed for online gambling in some arenas, including horse racing and fantasy sports. Since then, three states have legalized online gambling in one form or another, making it a more accepted practice countrywide.

Fantasy Sports Are Safe

Sports fanatics can relax — fantasy football websites are still safe for now. Ironically enough, the legislation would still leave fantasy teams, including fantasy football money leagues, free of prosecution, the lawmakers said. The odd distinction set into motion a series of debates over exactly where in the online gambling world fantasy sport owners resided.

The Chicago-based Fantasy Sports Trade Association helped spell out reasons why fantasy sports were somehow exempt from such legislation, arguing that fantasy sports, such as fantasy football, were based on skill and knowledge rather than luck. That distinction, the group said, was one of the key factors separating it from something like online blackjack.

“Fantasy sports leagues are games of skill,” the group said on its website. “Managers must take into account a myriad of statistics, facts and game theory in order to be competitive. Fantasy sports players are motivated to enter the hobby for reasons that have nothing to do with money or prizes.”

And, as if that were not enough to protect the craft, the absence of any sweeping federal legislation has allowed for different states to adopt different laws, making it difficult to enforce whether or not certain leagues break gambling laws when they include players from all over the country.

Splitting Hairs

While the distinction may seem slight, one of fantasy sports’ saving graces came in the difference between exactly what its customers were betting their money on.

Under current law, risking money, regardless of the amount, on the outcome of a sporting event constitutes gambling. But in fantasy sports’ case, participants are not betting their money on games. They’re betting on individual players.

At the end of the day, that seemingly minute difference between betting on games and betting on players has kept fantasy sports — and betting — legal as long as they come as a package deal.

Red Flags for Fantasy Sports Fans

The proposed legislation sparked members of the fantasy sports industry to keep tabs on which way Congress chooses to go. Whether current law protects fantasy sports gambling, including fantasy football for money leagues, or not, the industry certainly opened its eyes and ears to what could become a heated debate in the online gambling arena.

“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,” Peter King of told NBC Sports. “[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.”

Game On

Congress might still be mulling over exactly where it wants to draw the chalk line between legal and illegal gambling over the Internet, but the legality of fantasy betting has consistently remained protected — fantasy football websites included.

Either way, though, the multi-million dollar industry has lobbyists looming to make sure the game goes on. We will all be watching.

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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