The UK Gaming Commission put out a warning on Monday about running unauthorized fantasy sports leagues with entry fees.
The notice from the UKGC notes that anyone running a fantasy contest “in the course of a business” could be running afoul of the law. While that would likely cover most forms of daily fantasy sports, it also appears to cover some paid-entry season-long fantasy contests.
The notice comes ahead of the English Premier League season, which begins in August.
What the UKGC said on fantasy sports
The UKGC put out a press release linking to guidelines about running a fantasy sports league. The takeaway is that operating, or even advertising, a fantasy contest could require a pool betting license in the country.
The risk for those organising fantasy football leagues is that it could require a pool betting licence from the Gambling Commission, as prize values are determined by the number of paying entrants.
The exception to this is where it is not run in the course of a business, or where it is run privately, for example with residents of the same premises or between work colleagues.
The warning does not seem to cover the vast majority of social fantasy contests run between friends and co-workers.
The commission also warned companies that just by promoting a fantasy sports contest, it could mean the company requires a license.
Advertising, when it comes to gambling, includes doing anything that encourages someone gamble, or provides information about gambling facilities so that it will increase use. This includes Twitter or Facebook posts, whether public, or private or within groups.
Promoting a fantasy football league in this way could mean it is being operated in the course of a business and will need an operating licence.
UK casts a wide net on fantasy sports even vs. the US
All of the above points to how wide the UKGC considers its purview is when it comes to fantasy. Here’s a list of questions the UKGC says fantasy contest organizers should ask themselves to see if they might need a gambling license:
- Does it look and feel like commercial gambling?
- Is it run for profit?
- Is there any deduction for running costs?
- Is the source of participants beyond a genuine circle of friends and relations?
- Is advertising used to obtain participants?
- Is the size of the league beyond what is normal for a private league?
- Can any member of the public view or join the league?
- What is the level of activity required in running the league?
- Are there any wider revenue sources?
A number of fantasy sports laws have been passed in the US in the past two years, and these laws sometimes encompass paid-entry season-long fantasy sports. (That’s in addition to the larger paid-entry DFS market.) Thus far, the legalization and regulatory efforts for fantasy sports have not cast a net as wide as the UK does.
Season-long fantasy based on the EPL and other soccer leagues still far outpaces DFS in the UK.
“Fantasy football is no doubt a popular pastime for many during football season and many will be thinking about setting up their own league this summer,” said Ben Haden, program director at the Gambling Commission, in the press release.
Where DFS stands in the UK
The top two operators, DraftKings and FanDuel, have said they are pleased with their performance since entering the UK market last year. However, access to the UK market has not visibly increased liquidity at either to a meaningful degree, to date.