By Kim Ositis Reference Librarian King County Law Library
While being a fan of an NFL team might be a risk to your cardiovascular health, did you know that risking your own money in a fantasy football league online is actually illegal in Washington?
Many of us have seen the frequent fantasy football advertisements during NFL games and may have even participated in a free fantasy league. Washington is one of five states (including Montana, Louisiana, Iowa and Arizona) that consider fantasy sports wagering to be a form of illegal gambling.
Under the Washington Gambling Act (RCW ch. 9.46), gambling means staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under the person's control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that the person or someone else will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome: http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=9.46.
The situation is further complicated by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) (31 U.S.C. 5361-5367), which specifically excludes fantasy competitions that meet certain conditions from regulations prohibiting online gambling: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-109publ347/pdf/PLAW-109publ347.pdf.
However, change may be coming to Washington. In January, Senate Bill 5284 and companion House Bill 1301 were introduced. As originally drafted, these bills would have amended Washington law to legalize fantasy sports games using a definition similar to that found in the UIGEA: http://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=5284&year=2015; http://app.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=1301&year=2015.
However, problems soon became apparent when, at the first committee hearing, Sen. Pam Roach (the bill's sponsor) indicated that she intended to propose an amendment to the bill that would have allowed season-long games, while daily sports games would remain illegal: http://www.law360.com/articles/634703/no-game-changer-for-fantasy-sports-in-washington-state; http://www.tvw.org/index.php?option=com_tvwplayer&eventID=2015010201.
Both bills died, but Sen. Roach indicated (when interviewed recently by KING5 TV), that she would be introducing a similar bill in the next session: http://www.king5.com/story/news/local/2015/10/04/fantasy-football-illegal-in-wa/73361834/.
The Washington Gambling Commission has been following this situation closely and has issued several handy guides on the topic: http://www.wsgc.wa.gov/publications/brochures/5-165-internet-gambling-brochure.pdf; http://www.wsgc.wa.gov/publications/whats-new/aug-2015-whats-new.pdf.
In the meantime, keep in mind that a conviction for online gambling under RCW 9.46.240 is a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine or both. This adds up to making fantasy sports wagering a very risky proposition: http://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=9.46.240.
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