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Gambling or Contests of Skill? The Politics of Fantasy Sports in Virginia



With Super Bowl 50 in the books, millions of fantasy football fans watched another season come to an end. But the future of such popular online fantasy sites as DraftKings and FanDuel seems to be unresolved.

In Illinois and New York, attorneys general have labeled the games as illegal gambling, not fantasy sports. The sites also have been under fire after The New York Times reported last year that a DraftKings employee played on FanDuel with inside information, winning $350,000.

In an effort to save their businesses, FanDuel and DraftKings are lobbying for industry protections at the federal and state levels.

Several Virginia lawmakers are on board, introducing legislation in this session of the General Assembly to ensure that such gaming continues.

Three bills — one in the Senate and two in the House — have been filed that offer industry regulations and enact consumer protection measures.

Delegate Jackson Miller, D-Manassas, says that both companies want to be proactive, and prevent problems from happening in Virginia. More than a million Virginians participate in fantasy sports contests, he says.

Representatives of DraftKings say that fantasy sports contests aren’t gambling because of the skill and knowledge required to build a team lineup that performs consistently. Players must consider real-life variables such as salary caps, injury reports, weather and athlete’s reputations.

All of the bills would limit the contests to adults, allow players to request self-imposed bans and prohibit employees of the site from playing or sharing information. Violators would be subject to $1,000 penalties.

A bill introduced by Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, and Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, would allow the attorney general to oversee fantasy contests and require companies to submit annual audits to the office. The websites also would be required to check for tax liens and child-support obligations before awarding prizes of more than $1,000.

Legislation by Miller and Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, would require websites to submit audits to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and require an annual fee of $50,000 for the sites to register with the department.

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