Are Online Fantasy Sports Competitions Legal? Opinions Vary in Florida and Nationwide for Online Gaming, Gambling, and Fantasy Sports Law
A surprising topic was raised at the October 28, 2015, Republican candidates’ debate when Jeb Bush was asked about his views on regulating fantasy football leagues. In response, Bush likened the popular activity to unregulated day trading and suggested that the National Football League and the states should play an important role in establishing legal guidelines for fantasy football competitions. As fantasy football sites gain in popularity in Florida and across the U.S., many legal experts are considering whether this online activity should be considered gambling and regulated or prohibited accordingly. Consulting with an Internet gaming lawyer can often provide added insights into the distinctions between legal and illegal activities in the state of Florida.
A Brief History of Online Gambling and Online Gaming
The first gambling website was launched in 1995. Since that time, online poker has grown to a $6 billion dollar industry in the U.S. and generated $15 billion in revenues worldwide. Fantasy sports sites have also grown to epic proportions in the United States; figures released by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, more than 32 million players participate in trading and wagering through online sites.
Current Laws Do Not Broadly Outlaw All Online Gaming
The Federal Government has enacted some laws that regulate online gaming activities. The Wire Act (18 USC, Section 1084) prohibits all forms of sports betting only. This prohibition is based on a ruling issued in 2002 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit: • In re MasterCard Int’l Internet Gambling Litig., 313 F.3d 257, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 25129 (5th Cir. La. 2002). In addition, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA), (31 USC, Section 5361–67 et sec), prohibits certain banks and other financial institutions to handle transactions related to gambling activities. The legality of online gambling in the U.S. depends on the location of both the gaming provider and the participant. Some states have taken active roles in outlawing this activity.
Florida Efforts to Regulate Online Gambling
Florida online gaming, gambling, and Fantasy Sports law is most likely to be analyzed by looking at Section 849 of the Florida Statutes which codifies the regulation and control of gambling activities within the state. Additionally, many of the laws related to gambling depend on the notion of a distinction between games of chance and games of skill. (See Fla. Stat. § 849.11 for more details on this.) Unfortunately, the line between skill and chance has not yet been drawn with clarity. In 2013, the Governor of Florida signed a new law that effectively bans all illegal gambling devices; for the purposes of this law, computers are also considered devices. While it remains unclear whether fantasy sports competitions fall under this prohibition as a skill or a game of chance, no actions have yet been taken to prevent or curtail online fantasy sports sites from operating in the state of Florida.
Discussions are ongoing regarding the future of fantasy sports websites in Florida and across the U.S. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican member of the House of Representatives, is currently pursuing a ban on online poker and other Internet gambling sites. He has pledged, however, to exempt online fantasy sports leagues from this legislation. For those still seeking guidance, contact one of the experienced Internet gaming lawyers at our office to schedule an initial consultation.