Washington State’s nascent attempt to legalize real-money online fantasy sports could be about to take a sharp right turn in a direction decidedly unfriendly to the daily segment.
That’s one takeaway from testimony by Sen. Pam Roach at a hearing held by Washington’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on January 30th.
Before we get to Roach’s testimony (clip below), some quick background. The focus of the hearing was SB 5284, which Roach sponsored and introduced on January 19th, 2015.
As introduced, the bill is brief and does two things:
- 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.”
- 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.
Washington State is one of five states generally blocked by major daily fantasy sports sites due to the state’s law regarding what constitutes gambling. Passage of SB 5284 would remedy that by explicitly defining fantasy sports as not gambling.
Things get more complicated
Things started to take the aforementioned turn the moment the hearing pivoted to SB 5284.
Committee Chair Sen. Michael Baumgartner opened the subject by noting that “this was a more high-profile bill than the chair had originally understood.”
And then came Roach’s testimony (video excerpt below, clip may take a bit to load):
Sen. Pam Roach made it clear that she considers DFS – or “day-by-day” and “daily” as she called it – “is a game of chance,” that DFS “is gambling,” and that DFS “is different from” season-long fantasy sports
“We don’t want to expand gambling,” Roach stressed, repeatedly delineating between season-long and daily fantasy sports.
Roach suggested she is planning to file substantial amendments to SB 5284 and that she has been “exchanging emails” with the Washington State Gambling Commission to craft language that would restrict daily fantasy sports, as it “might upset true gambling” interests in the state to act otherwise.
Such a legislative delineation between season-long and daily fantasy sports would be a first, and could both undermine the fundamental legal logic of the industry and spark similar legislation in other states.
Complete clip of hearing for SB 5284
The remainder of the hearing should do little to inspire optimism among supporters of daily fantasy sports.
Committee member Sen. Steve Conway voiced repeated skepticism regarding DFS, saying that there is “a type of gambling going on here.”
And Chris Stearns, Chair of the Washington State Gambling Commission, noted that, with total DFS handle approaching $1bn, “we have an interest” in ensuring consumer protection.
Watch the complete portion of the hearing regarding SB 5284 below.