In Trouble with the Law

Fantasy Sports and Online Betting: Play it Safe

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Fantasy sports and online sports betting are big business. It’s estimated that 56 million players participate in fantasy sports, which generates annual revenue of $1.5 billion. So chances are you or someone you know is involved in fantasy sports. But is it legal to bet on your fantasy football team?

What are fantasy sports?

Fantasy sports leagues aren’t limited to football. In fantasy sports, players create virtual teams made up of real players from a professional league. Fantasy sports players compete against each other to see who can create the best team. The most successful players can earn rewards.

Often these leagues play across an entire season, but daily fantasy sports leagues have also become popular. These leagues have the same structure but operate over a much smaller time frame, such as a week or a day.

Fantasy leagues are so common that even the major professional sports leagues (NFL, MLB) provide fantasy websites and services. Daily fantasy sports providers are growing in popularity and include FanDuel and DraftKings.

Are fantasy sports legal?

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 was passed to prohibit online gambling and help protect consumers. This law specifically excludes fantasy sports leagues. This means that fantasy sports leagues are not considered online betting under federal law. The federal law considers fantasy sports a game of skill and not chance. This allows for fantasy sports betting, but it prohibits betting on a single game or player.

Although federal law allows for fantasy sports betting, state law may prohibit this activity. State laws regarding fantasy sport leagues can range from consumer protections to regulations and outright bans. In some states, fantasy sports leagues — specifically daily fantasy sports leagues — cannot operate due to state law.

Be sure to review and understand your state’s rules regarding fantasy sports leagues before becoming involved. You don’t want your hobby to result in serious legal issues. If participating in a restricted state, you could forfeit winnings and be subject to criminal charges.

What about office sports pools?

Small-dollar sports betting amongst co-workers and friends is common in offices and neighborhoods across the U.S. But are these pools legal? The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act is a federal law that prohibits sports betting. This law doesn’t exempt these small pools from gambling regulations. And as with fantasy sports leagues, the legal treatment of sports pools will also vary from state to state.

In addition to understanding your state laws, you should consider your employer’s policies when deciding whether or not to join the office pool. Some employers restrict this activity at the workplace. If prohibited, you could face workplace consequences if you participate.

Responsible gambling is a good call.

The National Center for Responsible Gaming cautions that no one type of gambling is riskier than another. Out-of-control betting can cause financial issues. Financial responsibility and awareness are the keys to making sure betting on your fantasy dream team doesn’t turn into a nightmare.

Keep these tips in mind to prevent your pastime from becoming a problem:

Set a budget.

Setting a budget and sticking to it is an important way to avoid financial problems with gambling. Knowing you have a limited amount to spend can help you be a more careful consumer.

Limit your time.

Just like money, time can slip away if we don’t plan carefully. Prior to joining, consider the amount of time you’re willing to dedicate to your fantasy team.

Use reputable fantasy sports providers.

New fantasy sports leagues seem to pop up every day. Review and investigate leagues before agreeing to join. There are many well-known and reputable leagues available.

Understand the agreement.

Read and understand all the terms and conditions of your fantasy football website provider. Is your personal information shared with others? How secure is your financial data? Asking these questions can ensure your personal and financial information is protected.

Is it a hobby or a gambling problem?

Most individuals who participate in fantasy sports and office pools don’t have a problem with gambling. But gambling addictions are common in the U.S. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that between four and six million people in the U.S. are problem gamblers.

To determine if you or someone close to you has a sports gambling problem, consider these warning signs:

  • Lying to cover up gambling activity
  • High debt and unpaid bills caused by the need to fund gambling
  • Neglecting family and work obligations to gamble
  • Gambling to alleviate stress, anxiety or depression
  • Criminal activity to support gambling

Help is available. Seek resources through your trusted healthcare provider, Gamblers Anonymous or the confidential NCPG helpline (800-522-4700).


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