Recently, a law was passed in Kansas legalizing real-money fantasy sports and Louisiana, which is one of the five states where access to real money games on daily fantasy sports sites is being denied, seems to be following suit- at least efforts are being made in that direction.
Real-money fantasy sports are against the law in Louisiana if played online and online fantasy sport leagues, which will allow residents to collect real-money prizes, is being viewed as a breach of the state’s gambling regulations. As this is being seen as a first step towards the sanctioning of online gambling, the Louisiana Family Forum is up in arms and strongly opposes any such measure.
Louisiana is said to be one of the most liberal states in terms of land-based gambling, but when it comes to online gambling, it’s taboo. FanDuel’s website clearly states that residents of Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana or Washington may only play in free contests.
As the proposed bill would allow Louisiana residents to collect money online should they win in any pay-to-play fantasy football game they enter, it’s quite clear that it’s not going to be allowed.
Recently, the FSTA (Fantasy Sports Trade Association) the largest and oldest trade group representing the fantasy sports highlighted the fact that the residents of Louisiana were supportive of fantasy sports and want the hobby fully legalized. Paul Charchian, president of the FSTA stated that it was time for Louisiana to pass HB475 and enable the state’s residents to participate and play all the fantasy sports contests that have already been legalized in 45 other states.
In fact polling data from international research firm Ipsos indicate that 70 percent of Louisiana residents
“support the full legalization of fantasy sports.”
Louisiana’s strict gambling laws prohibit fantasy sports that involve betting and Metairie Representative Joseph Lopinto became aware of this only when a Louisiana resident brought it to his notice in an email. When Lopinto probed further, he found that a 1997 legislation did indeed make fantasy football, illegal.
He noted that Louisiana has
“one of the strictest anti- gambling by computer statutes in the United States,”
and unfortunately its antiquated law outlaws fantasy football. The Louisiana legislation has certain requirements that fantasy sports games must follow in order to be considered legal in the state.
Lopinto, who is keen to place Louisiana on the online gambling U.S. map, recently introduced a bill to legalize Fantasy sports and enable the State’s residents to participate in fantasy contests. Louisiana’s professional sports franchises — the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans were right behind Lopinto.
Lopinto argued that fantasy sports games needed to be treated differently from gambling as it did not involve betting on a particular outcome of a game or a point spread, rather fantasy football was a game of skill and required knowledge of sports to play. More than luck, skill was the dominant factor. The bill did make it out of the state house pretty smoothly but when it made its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee, it ran into hot water.
This is not the first attempt though to try to legalize fantasy sports games in Louisiana. Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, sponsored legislation in 2010 and though the bill advanced out of the House Committee, it petered out on the House floor. Lopinto's bill appears to have been assigned to the same committee.
Well aware of the controversy that HB 475 brought along with it, Lopinto still wanted to keep the bill alive. He hence voluntarily deferred it and took it off the committee’s schedule for this session in the hope that he could try again in 2016.
According to Lopinto and many other advocates for fantasy sports games, the contests should be treated differently than other forms of online gambling because they require skill and knowledge of sports to play. According to Lopinto, skill rather than luck was the dominant factor.
FSTA counsel Jeremy Kudon too tried to dispel the misconceptions about fantasy sports and explained why it was not a form of gaming and why it wasn’t a threat to any established gaming interest.
Kudon frankly stated that the FSTA didn’t expect to pass a bill in Louisiana in this legislative session and LoPinto had introduced the bill on his own without prompting from the FSTA. The real object was to prepare for its passage in 2016 by building the groundwork in 2015.
Gene Mills, president of the Family Forum, had something different to say and believed that online fantasy sports would
“open the floodgates for a new form of online betting.”
It contested Lopinto’s opinion that fantasy football was a game of skill and not chance. The forum noted that as these games involved consideration in terms of a fee to participate and also involved payouts that were partially based on luck, it was only an expansion of gambling.
Mills also confirmed that some gaming interests in the state were also opposed to the bill and believed that Gov. Bobby Jindal shared that sentiment. The forum opined that by stopping the passage of the bill, it was doing the citizens of Louisiana a good turn by protecting children and adults from becoming addicted to Internet gambling. HB 475 would weaken the law that strictly prohibited any form of Internet gambling.
Five states that have restricted access to fantasy sports sites have seen bills either being considered for legislation or for discussion. How long it will take Arizona, Iowa, Montana, Washington and Louisiana to legalize fantasy sports games is anybody’s guess. For now, however, players of fantasy games will have to keep their fingers crossed in the hope that 2016 will be different.
The momentum that fantasy sports has gained is bound to make the clamor for legalization louder; the question begs –
“will the legislators and opponents hear it and respond.”