Washington State Bill Seeks To Define Fantasy Sports As Skill Game

Written By

Updated on

Washington State DFS Bill

With less than three weeks off the calendar in 2015, three states have active bills addressing fantasy sports.

That’s after Washington joined Indiana and Montana last week with a bill that seeks to clarify the status of fantasy sports under Washington State gambling law.

The bill in question: HB 1301 (tracking / full text). Its companion bill in the Senate is SB 5284 (tracking / full text).

All major daily fantasy sites currently block players from Washington State.

Short and sweet

The legislation is modest, at least in terms of length. The two-page bill has two components:

  1. Adds a new section to Washington code (9.46 RCW) that articulates the intent of the legislature to classify fantasy sports contests as “contests of skill, rather than gambling.”
  2. Adds a new section to Washington code (9.46 RCW) that (i) classifies “fantasy competitions” as games of skill and not gambling and; (ii) defines “fantasy competitions” – a definition taken, with a few minor revisions, from the conditions for a qualifying fantasy game set out by the UIGEA.

Two possible issues

Just sports or all fantasy competitions?

Despite the brevity, there’s a potential point of conflict in the bill. The first component specifically identifies “fantasy sports contests” as the activity the legislature intends to define as a contest of skill – and no other types of fantasy games.

But as noted above, the definition of “fantasy competitions” borrows from the UIGEA, whose scope covers not only sports, but also any “educational game or contest that involves a fantasy team” – a much broader purview that could include a wider array of markets (politics, stocks, celebrities, etc).

The double-edged sword of the UIGEA

Utilizing the UIGEA language makes sense on one level – it adds some heft to the bill and promotes a legislative consistency.

But at the same time, there’s a risk to the strategy. The UIGEA effectively pre-dates daily fantasy sports, making it difficult to argue that the fantasy exemption was written with DFS in mind. And, should that aspect of the UIGEA ever face a challenge (admittedly a massive if), we might see a weakness opened for Washington’s law as well.

Read the full text of the bill here.

Who supports and what’s next

The Senate version is co-sponsored by Senators Roach, Fain, Hatfield, and Mullet.  Representatives Pettigrew, Vick, Buys, Stokesbary, Van De Wege, Reykdal, McCaslin, and Magendanz make up the sponsors on the House side.

The House bill now moves to the House Commerce and Gaming Committee. Representative Vick is the only one among the sponsors who also sits on the GCG.

Coincidentally, a bill to regulate online poker was filed in Washington State just days before the introduction of the fantasy sports measure.