DraftKings and FanDuel Could Become Legal in Florida Under Proposed Law
Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg

DraftKings and FanDuel Could Become Legal in Florida Under Proposed Law

Florida legislators have long fought efforts to expand gambling. But apparently, their steadfast morals vanish when it comes to daily fantasy sports websites such as the controversial FanDuel and DraftKings.

Once again, a lawmaker has filed a bill to make daily fantasy sports sites – in which people bet real money on real athletes in real time – fully exempt from state gambling regulations. Sanford Rep. Jason Brodeur filed the bill Wednesday, but no companion bill has been filed so far in the Florida Senate.

The state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees racetrack gambling, poker, slots, and other gambling, would not regulate the websites, according to the proposed bill.

Sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings let users pick temporary teams and place daily bets on single-match fantasy sports games. The sites operate in legally murky territory: In most states, games of "skill," like old-school fantasy sports, are not subject to gambling laws, while games of pure "chance" like roulette are. Daily fantasy sites have long claimed to offer contestants a game of "skill" — but state governments have increasingly disagreed. Daily fantasy betting is legal in 13 states, illegal in five, and unregulated in the rest.

Though daily fantasy betting is likely illegal in the Sunshine State (both "skill" and "chance" games are considered gambling under state law), Floridians are able to bet on games as they please without fear of law enforcement cracking down on them.

Broduer's new bill winks at the idea that sites such as DraftKings pretend to be games of "skill," stating that daily fantasy betting is legal as long as "all winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and shall be determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals, including athletes in the case of sports events."

If that sounds familiar, Republican state Sens. Joe Negron, of Stuart, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, of Fort Walton Beach, filed similar bills last year. Nationwide, the American Gaming Association has been pushing legalizing sports betting, an industry much larger than daily fantasy sports. (More people bet on teams than study the nuances required to fill out a DFS lineup, position-by-position.) They haven’t gotten very far in their campaign for U.S. Congress to repeal a 1992 law that prohibits sports gambling, known as the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PAPSA).

So why would Florida, which is mired in gambling challenges — ranging from a current suit that might bring slots to any county that approves a referendum to a recent ruling that voided the Seminole Tribe’s contract with the state — go down this rabbit hole?

Florida gaming lawyer Daniel Wallach tells New Times the law could come at a cost to consumers, calling it "a straight-up decriminalization measure that, while not running afoul of PASPA, comes at a potentially heavy cost for consumers — no regulatory oversight, and, even worse, no regulations, unlike in other states.”

The bill, he adds, “just simply removes [daily fantasy sports] from the ambit of the state’s gambling laws without providing any consumer protections."

Wallach also adds that it seems a bit odd to even attempt to regulate sites such as DraftKings because cops aren't going after garden-variety fantasy sports players even if they're betting daily.

"No fantasy sports player has ever been prosecuted in Florida, or nationally for that matter, simply for competing in a fantasy sports contest," he says, "and it is unlikely that any federal or state law enforcement agency would target players for prosecution even if the law were to remain unchanged."

As recently as 2014, ads for DraftKings and FanDuel flooded local TV airwaves. But those promotions have since vanished, especially after TV-news-comedian John Oliver punched a hole in the industry's marketing strategy on his HBO show Last Week Tonight.

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