Fantasy sports have grown in popularity among avid sports fans but playing for earnings is illegal in Iowa. State lawmakers are hoping to remove any legal problems for fantasy sports enthusiasts, which means participants could begin to cash in on their time spent pouring over statistics.
“We have a very simple solution,” said Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, during a Senate State Government Subcommittee Wednesday. “We say that fantasy sports in this bill aren’t considered gaming under Iowa definition.”
Playing fantasy sports for cash winnings or prizes is technically illegal under Iowa law, which some say leave room for uncertain interpretation. Senate Study Bill 3108 aims to separate fantasy sports from gambling and allow participants to claim cash and prize winnings.
In fantasy sports, participants draft a team of real-life professional and collegiate players and compete with other fantasy participants and their teams based on the statistical performance of the players during real games and competitions. Websites like Yahoo! CBS Sports, ESPN and major league sports websites all provide platforms for fantasy sports play.
“I think most Iowans socially accept fantasy sports otherwise why would it be so widely popular, right?” said Danielson, who has played fantasy football. “We think its time to say because of legal uncertainty we don’t want that cloud hanging over Iowa anymore when it comes to fantasy sports.”
John Cacciatore, lobbyist for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, told lawmakers fantasy sports isn't gambling but a “game of skill” requiring participants to weed through “a myriad of statistics, facts and game theory” to be competitive.
Rep. Jake Highfill, R-Johnston, proposed a similar bill in the House and attended the subcommittee Wednesday. His efforts were stalled last year but thinks he’s gaining more traction this year.
The subcommittee hearing drew a group of lobbyists from the state's casinos, the Iowa Lottery, and gaming treatment centers. Although no one opposed the bill some expressed concerns it would provide another gambling outlet. Wes Ehrecke, president of the Iowa Gaming Association, who represents the state's regulated casino industry, said he wants to raise questions on how the sport would be regulated and what would penalties be for bad actors.
Cacciatore said of the 33.5 million of fantasy sports participants, 74 percent in 2010 didn’t play for profit but because they’re avid sports fans.
“The only enjoyment for these folks is winning and competing against each other as sports fans,” he said, elaborating on his own experience playing fantasy sports as an outlet for his sports knowledge.
The federal government didn't consider fantasy sports as gambling in a 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Cacciatore said the proposed bill uses similar language used by the federal government.The bill goes on to the full Senate State Government committee, chaired by Danielson, sometime next week.