Almost immediately after writing my article on fantasy sports as an alternative option for sports bettors, I received 2 emails from residents of Washington State informing me that state legislators are looking at decriminalizing fantasy sports. After looking into it, it appears that senator, Pam Roach, a Republican Senator from Auburn and Eric Pettigrew, a Democratic Representative from Seattle have done just that. Roach introduced Bill S5284 while Pettigrew introduced the companion bill HB 1301.
“Our state sees fantasy football as a game of chance – a felony crime. Congress has long considered fantasy football to be a game of skill. My bill will change the state’s definition,” Roach, a Republican from rural Auburn stated in a press conference.
“It’s always been something that’s been going on around me all the time… People are always talking about their fantasy sports leagues.” Pettigrew stated when introducing the House version of the bill.
Roach estimates that 500,000 Washington residents play fantasy sports but since FanDuel and DraftKings don’t allow signups from the state it seems that almost all of them play free fantasy sports on those sites or more likely the free games offered by sites like ESPN or Sportsline which are legal per Washington statutes. Roach believes that the UIGEA specifically allows fantasy sports and that the Gaming Commission has no business disallowing it. It seems that in determining that fantasy sports is gambling and thus illegal by Washington statutes the courts looked at the amount of chance involved in fantasy sports and deemed it significant enough to warrant being outlawed per RCW § 9.46.0225. On the Washington State Gambling Commission website under FAQ the following is stated:
“In 1973, when the Gambling Act was first passed, 100 square sports pool boards were authorized. This is the only type of sports betting allowed in Washington State. Bracket pools, office sports pools, and fantasy sports have never been authorized as gambling activities in Washington State and are illegal. See our Sports Wagering brochure.”
Harold, a lobbyist in Seattle who asked I not use his full name at the present time because it could hurt future lobbying efforts, felt the logic was disingenuous and was just another way to protect the 49 casinos and poker rooms in the state as well as the state lottery.
“I have no question the tribes and Washington State’s Lottery asked the Gaming Commission to put fantasy sports under the auspices of gambling because they don’t want the competition. Fantasy sports is almost exclusively a game of skill and the amount of chance is not material regardless of what the Commission says. Is there some bit of chance? Of course there is but everything in life has chance. Flying an airplane involves some chance (an engine could go, a flight can hit an unreasonable amount of turbulence) but we rely on the skill of the pilot to get the plane to the destination despite that bit of chance. We certainly don’t make it illegal for residents to fly.”
But what really irks Harold is the state’s unreal hypocrisy given that they along with Colorado legalizing marijuana possession in defiance of federal law and dared the feds to do something about it.