Life, liberty and the right to play fantasy sports.
The phrase won’t be found in any of the nation’s founding documents, but boosters of daily fantasy sports leagues made clear at the state Capitol on Monday that they feel strongly about it.
“There are some things that government should not do — and taking away our right to play fantasy football is one of the things government should not do,” said state Rep. Richard Pena Raymond, D-Laredo.
Raymond made his comments during a House committee hearing over a bill he co-authored, House Bill 1457, that would define daily fantasy sports as games of skill, not chance, and would legalize daily fantasy sports leagues with no licensing fees and no criminal penalties for league operators.
The bill includes a number of consumer protections for participants, such as prohibitions against employees of businesses that operate fantasy sports leagues or their family members from taking part in prize-based games.
Fantasy sports have evolved into a large but mainly self-regulated industry nationwide as various for-profit fantasy sports leagues navigate a patchwork of state laws. Last year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding opinion saying that fantasy sports is chance-based gambling and is illegal in Texas. That opinion prompted Raymond’s bill and some others in the Legislature this session.
Participants in fantasy sports leagues pay entry fees, create teams from menus of professional athletes and then compile points based upon statistical performance, such as yards gained and touchdowns scored in football. Money is awarded to the owners of the top teams in the online games, which typically last one day to one week.
But a number of representatives of religious groups and gambling-addiction organizations testified during Monday’s hearing over HB 1457 that fantasy sports have morphed from an innocent pastime with friends and family into a multi-million-dollar business. They contended that Paxton got it right — daily fantasy sports are games of chance that constitute gambling.
“The definition of gambling in this case is accurately applied,” said Ben Wright, pastor of Cedar Pointe Baptist Church and a representative of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Wright said he has played in recreational fantasy sports leagues himself but said he thinks the evolution of the games into a large, profit-driven industry has become detrimental. Among other things, he said, the for-profit leagues “hook young people” into gambling to pad their bottom lines.
Rodger Weems, of the advocacy group Stop Predatory Gambling of Texas, urged committee members not to be “taken in by a high stakes shell game” regarding the definition of chance vs. skill. He said daily fantasy sports leagues are chance-based, not skills-based, because factors such as weather, injuries “and even the unexpected bounce of a ball and a hundred other factors” depend upon luck.
But a representative of Fanduel and DraftKings, two businesses in the burgeoning industry, disputed that contention, saying no state has approved a law defining fantasy sports as gambling. A representative of a young Republicans group also testified in favor of the bill, saying fantasy leagues should be legal based upon the small-government principals that the GOP traditionally espouses.
For his part, Raymond was adamant that success in fantasy sports is a product of skill, not chance, and therefore should be legal.
“If you think fantasy sports aren’t a game of skill, then you haven’t played them,” he said.
The House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures left the bill pending following Monday’s testimony.