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Fantasy Sports Regulation Passes First Committee Hearing

Brian Ach/AP Images for NFL

As fantasy sports grow in popularity around the country,  Florida lawmakers are grappling with how to regulate the games.

Are fantasy sports legal in Florida? That depends who you ask. Companies such as FanDuel and DraftKings call it a game of skill. Others call it gambling and point to state rules that ban online gaming. But even if that second definition is true, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli says he’s not sure he’d want the state to enforce the rule.

“I don’t have an interest in making 3 million people in Florida immediate criminals,” Crisafulli says.

Instead, Crisafulli says he’d like to see some regulation. And Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Shalimar)  has a plan for that.

“What this bill does is it expressly provides for what is allowed in the state of Florida and we reverse the 1991 attorney general opinion that would make over 3-million Floridians criminals," Gaetz says.

The measure also creates rules for companies that facilitate fantasy sports and provides a definition for fantasy contests, specifying they aren’t governed by the state’s gambling rules. Gaetz says it’s clear the type of play in fantasy sports is significantly different from the play required for slot machines.

“In fantasy sports the data is very compelling that it is a game of skill if you look at who is most likely to receive the prize from one of these contests. They are people who have degrees in statistics and sit around looking at algorithms trying to determine which runningback is more likely to score a touchdown or which pitcher is more likely to earn a save in a particular game,” Gaetz says.

Gaetz says his bill is different from fantasy sports laws passed by other states. He says many a lot of the current legislation focuses on protecting the exclusivity of the gaming already happening. But that’s not what he wants to do.

“It will come as no surprise to any members of the this committee or any member of the legislature, that I generally favor the disrupter. You know if someone has come up with a different and new and innovative way to do something – whether that’s fantasy sports ridesharing or medical cannabis. I like people who come up with a new way to solve a problem or enhance an experience. And here this is an experience that the consumer has already voted this is an enhanced experience,” Gaetz says.

And Gaetz says he hopes Florida’s rules become a model for the rest of the country. Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) wants to ensure there’s a mechanism to help those who become addicted to fantasy sports.

“Really we’re talking about a new area of entertainment, if you will, which we’re talking with this bill today about new regulations and I think that it’s reasonable to assume that new problems are going to generate as this as this activity increases," Plakon says.

Plakon is behind an amendment that would take a portion of the fees paid to the state by fantasy sports companies and send it to a compulsive gambling program so it can create counseling focused on fantasy play. David Roberts with the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling says his organization is seeing an increasing number of calls from people who want help fighting an addiction to fantasy sports.

Plakon’s amendment passed and lawmakers in the House Business and Professions Committee approved the measure overall.  It goes next the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. A similar bill in the Senate is awaiting its first committee.