By Caitlin Rossiter
As March Madness wraps up this weekend, the focus shifts to summer and fall sports such as baseball and football. Eager sports fans begin to draft their teams for fantasy sports competitions. A fantasy sports competition, also known as rotisserie or roto, is a game in which people create a fantasy team out of actual sports players. This pretend team competes against other fantasy teams based on the statistics generated by real players that season. According to U.S. News and World Reports, nearly 30 million Americans play fantasy sports, generating up to $1 billion for the industry.
In six states states, however, such fantasy competitions are subject to fines and criminal punishment: Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana (only unlawful by telephone or internet), and Vermont. The federal law, Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, exempts fantasy competitions, allowing states to decide how to enforce the law. Proponents see fantasy competitions as a way to expand the fan base for national sports and promote camaraderie. Opponents associate such activities with the risk and chance of gambling, and note that under-the-table winnings are often not taxed.
Maryland lawmakers are debating a bill sponsored by Delegate John Olszewski Jr. concerning “Criminal Law—Betting, Wagering, and Gambling—Fantasy Competition,” that would exempt individuals in Maryland who place monetary wagers on fantasy games from currently applicable fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment not to exceed one year. Since 2008, Olszewski bill has been criticized as not being a pertinent issue. Olszewski counters that the bill is necessary since the Maryland Department of Legislative Services concluded that fantasy sports are not gambling because winning is largely determined by an individual’s analytical skills of national sports statistics, and not based on chance. This year, Olszewski’s bill passed the House with an amendment and is making its way through the Senate.
Louisiana lawmakers considered a similar bill in 2010 that failed 16 to 73 in the House. The penalty for participating in fantasy competitions in Louisiana is up to $500 or imprisonment for no more than six months.
Although states have diverse laws regarding fantasy competitions, online fantasy sports leagues often tackle this muddy arena by posting disclaimers and legal notices encouraging individuals living in certain states to participate in free leagues, or leagues without entry fees, to earn points for purchasing prizes. So in the “buyer beware” market of fantasy sports competitions, if you choose to participate, know your sport stats and your state laws.