By DARA KAM
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
While officials in some other states try to shut down the games, Florida legislators are speedily moving measures that would shield the daily fantasy sports industry from the state’s gambling laws.
House and Senate committees Wednesday approved proposals that would create regulatory oversight for the fast-growing industry, which is the subject of a federal probe and lawsuits in Florida.
Echoing industry representatives, sponsors of the Florida measures insist that the contests are games of skill, not chance, which are outlawed under most state gambling laws.
“… I don’t concede that this is gaming,” Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told the Senate Regulated Industries Committee before the panel signed off on his measure (SB 832) by an 8-4 vote.
Negron, who will take over as Senate president after the November elections, said his proposal is aimed at making sure that people who participate in office pools — or who play the online games — don’t get into trouble.
“I don’t want there to be ambiguity about what citizens are engaging in,” he said.
Negron’s proposal, which would create an “Office of Amusements” to oversee the games, would “make sure we’re not exposing someone who is engaged in fantasy sports contests to breaking the law.”
The measure would require fantasy contest operators to pay $500,000 for licenses and would give the Office of Amusements the authority to investigate, monitor, audit and license their activities. The bill, in part, also would bar employees of fantasy sports businesses from playing the games. The fantasy sports companies would also have to put up $1 million surety bonds to cover negligence or fraud.
But committee Chairman Rob Bradley said he wasn’t convinced the games don’t equate to gambling. Attorneys general in states such as New York, Texas and Illinois have said they believe the industry involves gambling.
In fantasy sports, players draft rosters of actual athletes, with the winners of fantasy games determined by the statistics of the athletes. Many games, like office pools, last all season. The questions about illegal gambling do not focus on those games. Instead the questions focus on online daily fantasy games offered by sites such as FanDuel andÂ DraftKings.
“No one in the world is interested in criminalizing” the old-fashioned office pool, Bradley said.
“Where I think the question changes is when you get into these daily sports where things are happening quickly. And I think, that to me begins to look more and more like what we consider to be traditional sports betting. … It’s like, what’s your definition of obscenity,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, told reporters after the meeting. “You kind of know it when you see it.”
The daily fantasy sports industry dumped thousands of dollars into legislative leaders’ political campaigns prior to the start of the 2016 session.
The House Finance and Tax Committee approved a similar measure (HB 707) that would give the Department of Business and Professional Regulation the authority to regulate the industry.
Committee Chairman Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who sponsored the measure, said he believes the daily fantasy sports games are games of skill and not games of chance.
Asked why the industry doesn’t involve gambling, Gaetz, who acknowledged spending $20 on a fantasy football pool while in high school, replied “in my mind it is not.”
Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said he supported the bill due to the projected number of people playing fantasy sports in Florida.
“The free market has demonstrated the support for this activity,” he said.
—News Service of Florida staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this story.