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Fantasy football as a form of gambling?

Whether something is considered gambling rests upon whether its outcome is determined by skill or by chance. Traditionally, fantasy sports leagues, even if there’s money at stake, involve a lot of skill — which players to draft, trade, and play, over a season covering multiple weeks — and thus aren’t considered gambling under state and federal law. However, the fantasy football industry is evolving, with an increasing number of “games” (leagues) that exist for only one particular Sunday. As the Associated Press reports:

The day-game world can be much different and the skill level needed to “run” a team that exists for only one week is far lower than that for a season-long enterprise.

And a growing number of fantasy sites have games that “look very much like prop bets or parlay cards,” [gambling law attorney Tony] Cabot says, with some games as simple as paying an “entry” fee, and then choosing who, between two players, will finish a certain day with more receiving yards.

“It depends on how you run your game,” Cabot said. “If you said, ‘We’re going to do fantasy, quick pick, random drafts,’ I say, ‘How can that be skill based?’ But if it’s a daily game where you’re doing a draft, have the ability to change players halfway through the game and make all these decisions, then it’s much closer to a traditional model.

So how do such day leagues fit into the existing laws covering gambling? And when will the NFL start to see some forms of fantasy football as essentially being betting on its games, something the league has traditionally been very much against? One thing seems certain, until someone squeaks, we can expect more and more fantasy sports offerings that require less skill.

“Part of the problem with entrepreneurial endeavors on the Internet is that some people push the envelope and some cross the line,” Cabot said. “Until there’s some sort of enforcement action on some level, I think you’ll see them keep pushing that line out further and further.”

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October 2014
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