Whether fantasy sports leagues are predominantly won by skill or luck is more than a matter of bragging rights in Kansas as the state’s attorney general prepares to issue an opinion on their legality.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt could determine them to be primarily games of chance, and therefore illegal under the Kansas constitution, which only allows the state to administer games that fit a broad definition of lottery.
The state’s gaming regulator announced in August it viewed private fantasy sports leagues as illegal lotteries, but interim executive director Don Brownlee said in March that he was unaware of any prosecutions on the matter and said the agency was not pushing for enforcement.
In fantasy sports leagues, players compete against one another by making up digital teams out of a pool of real athletes and tracking how well they play in their games. Each player is awarded a score based on the performance of their assortment of athletes, and leagues and fantasy sports websites often award cash prizes to the best teams.
A measure before the Legislature would define fantasy sports leagues as a game of skill, but Rep. Mark Kahrs, R-Wichita, said he requested the attorney general’s opinion in early April because he thinks the bill is unconstitutional.
“No question there’s a high level of skill in fantasy sports leagues, but there’s a high level of skill in horse racing and poker as well,” Kahrs said.
Clint Blaes, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said that the request has been received and is being reviewed, declining to comment further.
FanDuel, one of the nation’s largest fantasy sports gaming websites, has not decided how it would be affected by a change in Kansas’ legal interpretation of the games, spokeswoman Justine Sacco said. While the situation remains vague in Kansas, FanDuel has ceased offering paid entry games in five states – Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington – where Sacco said the legal parameters are more defined and “we’re not trying to test them.”
Fantasy sports have grown in recent years, with about 41.5 million Americans spending an average of $111 on league-related costs in 2014, according to data from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. That’s almost double the 27 million players participating in 2009, according to the study.
Kahrs said the growth of fantasy sports leagues amount to an expansion of unregulated gambling in the state, but acknowledged that little would likely change if the attorney general declares them illegal.
“I suspect life will go on as usual. I suspect there will be few, if any, prosecutions,” Kahrs said.
The fantasy sports bill in the Legislature would also set new regulations for charity bingo and raffle fundraisers and is currently in conference committee negotiations as both chambers have passed different versions of it. Lawmakers are expected to take up further discussions on it once they return from their annual spring recess April 29.