Hearing on Daily Fantasy Sports Felony Bill Sets Stage For Washington Battle

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Criminal with handcuffs

OLYMPIA — Washington state began its 2016 foray into dealing with the daily fantasy sports industry, considering a bill in a public hearing that would make operating a DFS site a felony.

The House Commerce & Gaming Committee talked about HB 2370 — authored by committee chair Rep. Chris Hurst — and took public testimony on the legislation on Monday.

The hearing was held with the backdrop that Washington is already one of six states where no DFS operator allows users. There are also other bills active in the legislature that would seek to classify DFS as a game of skill and expressly legal in Washington.

Years ago, Washington passed a law making online poker a felony in the state.

Prior to the hearing

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association released this statement before Monday’s hearing.

“The FSTA urges everyone in the state of Washington to contact their representatives to vote against Rep. Hurst’s ridiculous, unseemly bill that would make criminals out of the millions of law-abiding, decent folks who have enjoyed playing fantasy sports for decades and appreciate the skill and camaraderie involved in playing the games.”

Hurst had already made his feelings on the subject of DFS abundantly known — namely that he feels that DFS is a form of illegal gambling that should not be authorized or encouraged in any way in the state.

Hurst’s feelings and rhetoric came via the bill’s language and a media blitz that included:

Whether Hurst can pass his bill remains to be seen, but it could simply be a signal to other legislators that a bill that is more friendly to the DFS industry is not likely to get through his committee.

At Monday’s hearing

Given that backdrop, it might have been fair to expect more fireworks at Monday’s hearing.

But it lacked for that. Hurst was relatively measured in his comments in bringing the bill before the committee, although some of his prior rhetoric crept in. And it was just a public hearing, meaning the bill was not up for debate or a vote.

Still, there was little sense from the committee where they stood; only one committee member had any questions during the hearing. No one had questions for Hurst when he opened the committee up to questioning his bill.

Hurst’s comments on the DFS bill

Hurst presented his bill for the hearing, saying he believes the state has rejected expansions of gaming — and particularly online gaming.

“I don’t have a problem with fantasy sports, fantasy sports has been around a long time,” Hurst opened his comments with.

“I don’t have a problem with people putting money into pools, for that matter. I think that’s perfectly fine,” Hurst continued, before getting into the fantasy sports carveout in the UIGEA. “But it changes with something we have seen recently, and the folks that proposed the legislation that DraftKings and FanDuel now uses have said they never intended and never expected that loophole for fantasy sports, that created the disaster that we have today.”

He went on to say that he believes the bill is no more than a reiteration of current Washington law, as fantasy sports for real money and online gambling are already illegal in Washington state.

Hurst also trotted out some of the arguments that online gaming opponents have been using for years:

Those arguments, of course, can be used to advocate for regulation of the DFS industry as well; Washington residents could easily access offshore online gambling and poker sites if they wanted to where those issues are very real concerns.

Witnesses at the DFS hearing

Hurst said he was surprised that fewer people had asked to testify, although the room was full of people watching the proceedings. Testimony was provided by:

Tribal interests did not testify in front of the committee.

The other legislative efforts

There are three different DFS efforts active in the legislature, besides Hurst’s:

There are legislative efforts going on across the country, but no other bill currently seeks to outlaw DFS. Attorneys general in Illinois and New York have stated their opinions that DFS is illegal gambling under state law.