The state of Washington is known for having some of the harshest online gambling laws in the United States.
But these laws go even further than many realize: Washington also considers fantasy sports to be a form of gambling, meaning that players who spend money on their online fantasy sports leagues are technically breaking the law, and could even be charged with a felony under the same laws that criminalize online poker and casino games.
That’s something that many local officials would like to be changed.
With an estimated 500,000 residents in the state playing fantasy sports games, State Senator Pam Roach (R-31st District) says it’s time to reclassify the contests as a game of skill rather than as luck-based gambling.
“Our state sees fantasy football as a game of chance – a felony crime,” Roach said. “Congress has long considered fantasy football to be a game of skill. My bill will change the state’s definition.”
Washington Residents Restricted from Fantasy Sports Sites
Right now, many major online fantasy sports outlets block Washington residents from participating on their sites, including top daily fantasy sites like FanDuel and DraftKings.
Traditional season long leagues on sites like ESPN.com are often open to Washington residents, but they are typically ineligible to win prizes.
The problem is that most states see fantasy sports as a game of skill.
But the Washington State Gambling Commission still sees luck as a big enough factor to classify it as gambling under current state laws.
“There’s always the chance the Seattle Seahawks will come back from two touchdowns down with two minutes left,” said commission chairman Chris Stearns, referring to the Seahawks’ improbable comeback in the NFC Championship game last weekend. “Whereas in most states, the fact that you’ve spent all this time poring over stats and making your own spreadsheets, that’s the skill part, and that weighs most heavily.”
Sports Betting Would Remain Illegal
Under the proposed law, there would still be a prohibition on placing bets on the outcome of real world sporting events.
However, both daily and season-long fantasy sports would be expressly legal, even for real money play.
The bill appears to have better odds than a similar bill that would decriminalize and regulate online poker; the fantasy sports bill has bi-partisan support and has picked up a number of sponsors on both sides of the aisle.
Companion bills have already been introduced in both the House of Representatives and the State Senate.
The legalization effort is supported by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, an industry group based out of Chicago.
According to the group, more than 41 million people in America and Canada play fantasy sports, and nearly half of them play for real money.
“We think citizens of Washington should be able to play the full array of fantasy sports contests offered in 45 other states and be able to win prizes in free contests offered by major media companies,” said association chairman Peter Schoenke in a statement.
Washington is one of five states in which residents are typically blocked from playing on daily fantasy sports sites.
As we recently reported, momentum is increasing in several of these states to legalize such games: recently, a Montana lawmaker introduced a bill that would allow residents to participate in contests where the entry fee was $100 or less.