Delegate pushes to allow cash rewards for fantasy sports

The Ravens get gold rings if they bring home the big prize this season, but what happens if your fantasy team wins, too?

Aside from bragging rights, if you live in Maryland, you don't get squat. That's a sharp contrast with people in most other states, where winners can receive cash and prizes.

Del. John Olszewski Jr., an active fantasy footballer, says he wants to put Marylanders "on the same playing field" with participants elsewhere, and has pre-filed a measure in Annapolis to allow wagers within fantasy leagues.

"We're just freeing a restraint that Maryland currently has and giving our residents the same opportunities that others have," said Olszewski, a Baltimore County Democrat.

He's has introduced the bill in the past but said he's optimistic that there will be more momentum this year. (As fate would have it, his bill number this session is lucky H.R. 7). The legislation would apply to all fantasy sporting, including baseball and basketball.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association, a national group that advocates for companies that run fantasy leagues, estimates that there are about a dozen states like Maryland where cash payouts aren't allowed. The group recently hired a federal lobbyist and opened a political action committee.

Maryland's law is silent on fantasy gaming, though a 2006 opinion by the attorney general on poker tournaments lays out a fairly strong argument that cash prizes would be barred in Maryland. The opinion argued that gambling includes three main elements: decision-making, chance and reward. All are present in fantasy leagues.

Fantasy leagues are typically web-based and allow each participant to act as general managers for teams. The game blends reality and fantasy; scores are based on real game statistics for each player. Picking a player who becomes injured in a real game, for example, can have a devastating effect in the fantasy league.

Roughly 12.6 million Americans participated in fantasy leagues in 2006, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

Olszewski found that the uncertainty was enough for large companies that host leagues, like ESPN and CBS, to bar cash payouts here. He discovered the limitation when he was setting up his own fantasy football league a few years ago.