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Lawmaker: Make playing fantasy sports legal under state law

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PHOENIX – The countless Arizonans who play fantasy football for prizes may no longer have to wonder whether they are breaking the law.

A bill introduced by Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, would legalize participation in fantasy sports, eliminating what he calls vague language in the current gambling law.

“Right now there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Arizonans playing fantasy sports. And I think it’s kind of inconsistent to kind of discriminate against them,” Driggs said.

SB 1468 passed unanimously through the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Energy and Military on Wednesday, forwarding it to the Senate floor by way of the Rules Committee.

Stacie Stern, general manager of Head2Head Fantasy Sports in Scottsdale, said that while no one has been prosecuted for participating in fantasy sports, Arizonans have been excluded from winning prizes in fantasy sports competitions with ESPN and Yahoo Sports.

“Most people, when they’re playing, they’re playing for fun, they’re playing for bragging rights and are very engaged in various games,” Stern said. “The prizing is third for fourth on the list, but it’s still important. People like to say that they’re a winner, they like to brag about it.”

Members of fantasy sports leagues build dream teams of players and compete based on those players’ real statistics.

Stern said fantasy sports deserve more than a classification as gambling because they involve skill – not chance.

“You’re really making decisions based on your own knowledge or your own reading, your own research, and then putting together your team and playing against somebody else to see who gets to win,” Stern said.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, approved by Congress in 2006, included language that legalized fantasy sports across the United States. Arizona is one of five states – Montana, Iowa, Vermont and Louisiana are the others – that don’t include space in their gambling statutes for fantasy sports.

That could make participation in fantasy sports leagues a Class Five felony, said Ruth Carter, a Phoenix attorney. That charge carries up to six months in prison and a $150,000 fine.

“I think probably when the law was written we didn’t have fantasy sports or they didn’t have the level of popularity they have now,” Carter said.

Maryland removed fantasy football from gambling restrictions in 2012, and lawmakers in Iowa are currently working on a similar bill.

Stern said the bill would also boost Arizona’s economy, since the fantasy sports industry is worth more than $1 billion.

“It would really open up business for other companies to be able to come to Arizona and feel like they’re in an environment that would be conducive to fantasy sports,” she said.

Raoul Encinas, a Phoenix resident who has played fantasy football for more than a decade and typically participates in 10 to 12 different leagues, said most Arizonans aren’t even aware it could be illegal.

He added that redefining fantasy football in gambling law just makes sense, given the Super Bowl will be here next year.

“This law seems archaic. I don’t know what it was trying to prevent, but it doesn’t seem to represent the realities of modern-day Arizona,” he said.

Driggs said his bill would correct an issue that he finds rather ridiculous.

“It’s interesting, ironic and almost embarrassing,” he said. “So many fans of the NFL play fantasy sports, they just can’t do it when they’re in Arizona.”