Opinion: Official League Data Back With Vengeance in Florida DFS Bill

Posted on May 14, 2021
official league data
Posted By on May 14, 2021

A new DFS bill in Florida demands some closer scrutiny on official league data.

While much of the gambling world has focused its attention on the pending compact between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe, a fantasy sports bill was placed on the Agenda for the legislature’s special session.

While fantasy sports have become something of an afterthought to many people as legal sports betting expands across the country, millions of users continue to flock to both season-long and daily fantasy sports. The legality of fantasy sports has been in question since the 1990s.

As part of the compact approval process, efforts are underway to authoritatively authorize fantasy sports in the state. But the legislation includes the strictest official data mandate yet. It would almost certainly threaten the ability of smaller operators to continue to exist in the Sunshine State.

Uncertainty of fantasy sports in Florida

Back in 1991, Florida’s Attorney General Robert Butterworth was asked whether paid participation in fantasy sports leagues violated the state’s gambling laws.

In his response, Butterworth referenced Florida Statute Section 849.14, which states:

Whoever stakes, bets or wagers any money or other thing of value upon the result of any trial or contest of skill, speed or power or endurance of man or beast . . . or whoever knowingly becomes the custodian or depositary of any money or other thing of value so staked, bet, or wagered upon any such result . . . shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Not as simple of skill versus chance

The then-Attorney General noted that the statute prohibits wagers on contests of skill.

He noted that early case law from the state noted even wagers where the bettors were participants in the event were problematic under the statute.

Butterworth concluded AG Opinion 91-03 by stating that in his opinion paid fantasy sports contests would violate Florida Statute 849.14.

Now, this opinion has obviously had little effect, with most major fantasy sports having operated in the state, and there being no known recent prosecution of a fantasy sports operator. The opinion, however, continues to cast a dark shadow over operators in the state.

Long-stalled efforts to legalize

The modern efforts to legalize DFS in Florida date to at least 2015.

Recent efforts have taken a back seat to efforts to legalize Florida sports betting more broadly.

The standalone efforts to legalize the contests did not gain much traction.

The pending compact agreed to between the Seminole Tribe and the Governor Ron DeSantis provided evidence that changes were coming to the state’s treatment of fantasy sports. But unlike the compact, which provided language about sports betting in Florida, fantasy sports were left without many details.

A new bill with details

The details were filled in when a series of bills were posted on the Florida Senate’s website Friday. Amongst the bills was S 16A the Fantasy Sports Contest Amusement Act, which was slated for discussion Monday afternoon.

The bill’s legislative findings state:

It is the intent of the Legislature to ensure public confidence in the integrity of fantasy sports contests and contest operators. This act is designed to regulate the contest operators and individuals who participate in such contests and to enact consumer protections related to fantasy sports contests. Furthermore, the Legislature finds that fantasy sports contests, as that term is defined in s. 546.13, involve the skill of contest participants.

The bill is fairly standard, until it is not

The fantasy sports bill is fairly standard. It is, though, perhaps more protective than other legislation on the same subject, more closely mirroring gambling regulations than fantasy sports regulations.

The bill is fairly pro-forma until the provision addressing consumer protections is reached.

Amongst the purported consumer protections is the requirement that:

A contest operator must use only statistics, results, outcomes, and other data relating to a professional sporting event which have been obtained from the relevant sports governing body or an entity expressly authorized by the sports governing body to provide such information to contest operators.

Official league data? For fantasy sports? Why?

This is the first known fantasy sports bill to require the use of official league data, and is effectively requiring operators to purchase data that is widely available for free.

The bill does not appear to distinguish between season-long or daily fantasy sports. It is unclear why an operator would not be able to rely on information that is in the public domain, which has been the practice for decades with few reported problems.

The debate over official league data has been ongoing  for some time after evolving out of the failed quest for integrity fees. Even in the few states that have adopted an official league data mandate, it has only been done to settle in-play wagers.

A departure from history

This is what makes this proposed legislation such a departure from the norm.

The mandate neglects the long history of fantasy sports, which at one time involved reading newspapers and compiling statistics from box scores.

Fantasy sports have changed, but not in a way that has brought the progeny of the data used to determine the results into question.

A disconnect on official league data

In addition to being the first state to include a requirement that fantasy sports use official league data, it strikes a contrast from the language in the sports betting compact.

The compact language requires:

Any data source and the corresponding data to determine the results of all sports bets must be (i) complete, accurate, reliable, timely, and available and (ii) appropriate to settle the types of events and wagers for which it is used.

The compact’s requirement seems like a standard mandate that some might argue requires a competitive data market. The fantasy sports bill by contrast makes no reference to data being complete, accurate, reliable, etc., only that it originate from sports leagues or their chosen partners.

What to make of this?

This bill is likely to be discussed at length during the special session and the language and requirements are subject to change.\

It remains uncertain whether the official league data provision will survive debate.

However, it is unclear how the provision is somehow a consumer protection.

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John Holden

John Holden J.D. / Ph.D. is an academic. His research focuses on policy issues surrounding sports corruption.

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