Legality of daily fantasy sports comes up in ESPN report about Las Vegas Raiders
Legal Sports Report

Nevada Governor: ‘Never Had A Conversation About Daily Fantasy Sports’ With Cowboys Owner Jones

Jerry Jones daily fantasy sports
ESPN’s Outside The Lines reported that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lobbied on behalf of legalization of daily fantasy sports in Nevada.

A day after that report came out, the office of Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement to Legal Sports Report that such a conversation never took place.

What Jones reportedly did on DFS

OTL was reporting on the NFL’s recent decision to move the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas.

ESPN’s reporting indicated that daily fantasy sports’ legality came up in talks about the move, as Jones was trying to broker a deal behind the scene to make the Raiders move happen.

Here’s what ESPN wrote about a call between Jones and Sandoval from October, as a bill to fund a stadium for the Raiders surfaced in the legislature:

The league would be a fool to turn down $750 million, Jones explained. And during their chat, Jones asked the governor for a return favor: to work to legalize daily fantasy sports in Nevada. Jones, who declined comment for this story, was an early investor in DraftKings, the Boston-based daily fantasy company.

The audacity of Jones’ request stunned those with knowledge of it, they said, because [Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon] Adelson is a vocal, aggressive opponent of legalizing daily fantasy sports and online gambling in Nevada and around the country, which he once called “a cancer waiting to happen.” Sandoval declined to comment through a spokeswoman for this story, but on Thursday, after it published, Sandoval said Jones never brought up legalizing daily fantasy sports during their conversation.

In the OTL podcast, ESPN’s Don Van Natta reported that “several key sources” said DFS came up, despite the denial from the governor’s office.

Jones, as the OTL story noted, was a part of a $300 million round of investment in DraftKings in 2015, via Legends Hospitality.

What the governor said on Jones and DFS

Sandoval’s office categorically denied that DFS ever came up in conversation with Jones, during the call reported or at any other time. A spokesperson for the governor offered this statement on Friday, going further than the denial in the ESPN piece:

“The Governor and Mr. Jones have never had a conversation about Daily Fantasy Sports and ESPN’s suggested implication to the contrary is patently false.

The Governor believes that fantasy sports constitutes sports betting and thus requires a gaming license in Nevada. The State has not altered its regulatory scheme or proposed any changes to Nevada law to accommodate any specific business.”

The backstory of Nevada on DFS

The legal history of Nevada and DFS dates back to 2015.

In October of that year, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt opined that DFS requires a gaming license to operate in the state. As a result, gaming regulators told DFS operators to stop taking customers in the state, as they violated state law if they didn’t have a license.

All DFS sites pulled out of the state as a result. Before that, DraftKings and FanDuel operated in the state, and often held their live finals contests in Las Vegas.

Governor, other officials talk DFS

In the wake of that, Sandoval announced he would convene the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee to talk  about a variety of issues — DFS included — in the spring of 2016.

The committee talked about what to do about DFS in the coming months (more here and here). Those happened even as DraftKings and FanDuel floated draft legislation to make their contests legal, without a gaming license.

At a meeting of the NGPC is November, Sandoval said there was “no need for changes” to Nevada law to accommodate DFS. It’s important to note that this occurred after the reported discussion between Sandoval and Jones. So even if it the discussion hypothetically did take place, it didn’t do anything to sway Sandoval or anyone else in the government.

The issue of DFS appears to be dead in the state as of right now. One operator — US Fantasy — is licensed to offer a pari-mutuel style DFS product. No other US-based operators serve the state today.

Adelson and casinos on DFS

The casino industry in Nevada, at least, has not been the biggest fan of DFS.

Adelson — long an opponent of online gambling — made his first public remarks against DFS in September, in an interview with Yahoo Finance.

Other casino interests — notably MGM Resorts International CEO Jim Murren — have consistently called out DFS as a gambling product, despite the industry’s protestations.

What’s it all mean?

Did the conversation take place on DFS or not? ESPN’s sources says it did, and the governor’s office says it didn’t.

Here’s what we can take a guess at: Jones — or at least people in his camp — wanted to bring up the subject of DFS, in the context of the ESPN story. Why? That’s not altogether clear.

Still, the brouhaha over DFS and its relation to the Raiders move is indicative of this: At least some interests in the NFL are still very invested in the future of DFS.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.