April may be one of the most crucial months so far for the future of daily fantasy sports. The next two weeks will see a flurry of hearings and votes as a number of state legislative sessions approach key deadlines. States to keep a close eye on regarding DFS legislation include Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
But the state with perhaps the highest stakes, and the most chatter, right now is Maryland.
What’s going on in Maryland with DFS
Things ramped up in recent days and weeks, including the industry-led advocacy effort — Fantasy Sports For All — making its presence felt at the Baltimore Orioles’ opening day on Monday. A pair of state delegates also penned an editorial headlined “Don’t kill fantasy sports in Maryland.”
The delegates, the advocacy group — and the fantasy industry at large — are opposing a pair of bills (S 976 and S 980). One would send the question of whether the state should regulate DFS to a referendum; the other would amount to a ban on DFS if voters don’t approve the referendum.
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association made it clear how it felt about the legislative efforts after the state Senate passed both bills last month.
FSTA statement regarding Maryland: pic.twitter.com/zWLu5Jf8lF
— FSGA (@FSGAtweets) March 23, 2016
The backstory of DFS in Maryland
The arc of activity in Maryland is quite apart from what’s happened elsewhere in the U.S. Maryland actually passed a law back in 2012 legalizing fantasy sports — or so it thought.
But the office of the Maryland Attorney General issued an advisory opinion on the subject of daily fantasy sports in January, urging the state legislature to clarify existing law.
The AG questioned whether the earlier law should have gone to a referendum, hence the current effort.
Before and after that opinion, there had been no shortage of chatter and hand-wringing in Maryland about what to do about DFS.
What could happen in the Maryland legislature
The state legislature is set to adjourn on April 11, so anything that will happen should come within the next week.
A hearing is set for Thursday, April 7, in the House Ways and Means Committee. If the measures are sent to the full House, a “yes” vote would send the matter to the voters in November.
What are the chances of all that happening? Right now, it appears to be anyone’s guess. From a recent Associated Press story:
“We’re giving two options to the House of Delegates,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said after the votes.
Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff to House Speaker Michael Busch, wouldn’t predict what the House will do, since the legislation originated in the Senate and the House hasn’t had hearings on it yet.
Why Maryland matters
The legislative effort in effort is of more importance in Maryland than just about any jurisdiction other than New York.
Why? Because a failure to pass a bill in most states only means the status quo prevails, which in many cases is that fantasy operators continue to operate in ‘x’ state.
But a negative outcome in Maryland would be the bad precedent — at least from the industry perspective — of a legislature possibly rolling back a law that many had thought made DFS explicitly legal.