Lawmaker eyes bill protecting fantasy sports

AUSTIN - Thursday marks the first game of the NFL season, and for millions of Americans, that means fantasy football.

As beer joints across Texas become draft central, fantasy football fans are once again dreaming of championships -- and in some cases, big bucks. For the fantasy team owner whose office pool isn't enough, daily fantasy sports companies like DraftKings and FanDuel offer the chance to win daily cash prizes.

The question is: Does it amount to gambling?

"This is not the roulette wheel," state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond told reporters Thursday at his Texas Capitol office. The Laredo Democrat is worried the state may consider fantasy sports illegal.

"I play fantasy football," said Raymond. "It is a game of skill. It is not a game of chance, and legally that is the big issue here."

A non-binding opinion by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in January classified fantasy sports as illegal games of chance, arguing outcomes are often determined by things other than a player's skill -- such as referees blowing a call. Paxton also argued leagues that profit from fees are essentially taking a "rake" or vigorish, like a casino.

The opinion resulted in FanDuel pulling out of Texas and an ongoing lawsuit with DraftKings, both of which are represented by Austin-based public affairs organization the Monument Group. The opinion was requested by outgoing state Rep. Myra Crownover (R-Denton).

Raymond argues critics don't understand the skill involved.

"You put Tom Brady on one side up against Blake Bortles from Jacksonville on the other side, and it's not a game of chance," Raymond said, by way of example. "Making that move required skill, required an understanding of the game, an understanding of the players, the statistics and so forth. Tom Brady is going to come out ahead."

Raymond plans to file a bill to legally classify fantasy sports as games of skill, while restricting pay leagues to people 18 and up. Raymond says he's had no contact with daily fantasy leagues -- only anxious constituents. 

"You know, there are just some things the government shouldn't be sticking their nose in, and fantasy football is one of them, in my opinion," said Raymond.

Lawmakers can't file bills for the 85th Texas Legislature until after the November election, and Raymond plans to be among the first in line.

Crownover's office said the Denton Republican had yet to review Raymond's proposal. Scott Dunaway, Monument Group partner and Texas-based spokesperson for DraftKings and FanDuel, told KVUE "we are pleasantly surprised" to hear Raymond's plans.

"However, we are not surprised that the millions of Texans that are passionate about fantasy sports have begun to contact their elected officials on this issue," Dunaway continued in an e-mailed statement. "We look forward to working with the legislature in the coming year to protect fantasy sports in Texas."

(© 2016 KVUE)


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