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Marylanders might get to vote on legalizing daily fantasy sports

The fantasy sports website DraftKings is shown. DraftKings and its rival FanDuel have been under growing scrutiny around the country.
The fantasy sports website DraftKings is shown. DraftKings and its rival FanDuel have been under growing scrutiny around the country. (Scott Olson / Getty Images)

Marylanders would get to vote in November on whether to legalize daily fantasy sports betting under a plan that's moving through the state Senate.

The industry -- which is led by companies including FanDuel and DraftKings -- has been in legal limbo since the state Attorney General's Office issued an advisory opinion in January saying the websites might not be legal under Maryland's gambling laws.

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The Senate is considering a pair of bills to clarify the situation. One would make daily fantasy sports betting illegal starting in 2017, but the second bill would make the practice legal -- and allow the state to regulate it -- if voters approve it during a referendum in Novembers election.

The issue of daily fantasy sports has drawn attention of one of the top Democratic leaders in the state, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who said Tuesday that there are no consumer protections for people who play daily fantasy sports online.

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"Right now there are no regulations in place," he said.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the bills would take an "outlaw, unregulated industry" and bring it "into the light of day."

Under existing state law approved in 2012, fantasy sports that reflect the "relative skill of participants" is exempt from other prohibitions on gambling in the state. That law was intended to allow fantasy football leagues among friends or coworkers.

In fantasy sports, participants earn points based on how their chosen or "drafted" professional athletes perform on the field. Usually, participants track their players for an entire sports season, potentially winning money at the end of the season.

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Daily fantasy sports websites allow participants to pay to pick new players each day, with the potential to win money daily.

The Attorney General's Office recommended that state lawmakers take up the issue to "clear up ambiguity" over whether daily fantasy betting should be legal or not.

But businesses that operate fantasy sports maintain that they are legal based on the 2012 law, said Peter Schoenke, chairman of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which represents more than 300 fantasy sports businesses. Schoenke operates RotoWire.com, a website that provides information on athletes to fantasy sports participants.

Daily fantasy sports websites were operating back in 2012 and lawmakers made them legal, Schoenke said. "Now there's this revisionist history that only season-long leagues between buddies was made legal back then," he said.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association is OK with some regulations on the industry -- such as prohibiting minors from playing and requiring safeguards to protect participants' money -- but remains opposed to a referendum, Schoenke said.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association is monitoring legislation in more than 20 states. The industry supports a law just passed in Virginia that legalizes and regulates daily fantasy sports.

Griffin Finan, director of public affairs for DraftKings, said in a statement that Maryland's plan for a referendum "is not reflective of what we are hearing from fans, lawmakers and experts in state after state including Virginia -- that fantasy sports are legal games of skill."

The bills were given preliminary approval on Tuesday, setting them up for a final vote in the Senate later this week. If passed by the Senate, the bills would move to the House of Delegates for consideration.

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