Ohio lawmakers seek to legalize fantasy sports, add protection

In Ohio, the attorney general said there is a gray area in state law that does not address the legality of fantasy sports

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COLUMBUS (WKBN) – Sunday is synonymous with several things, football being one of them. Fans eagerly checking their televisions, computers, or phones for the latest scores and stats. But over the past couple of decades, fantasy sports have grown in popularity.

Fantasy games allow you to play against other people online, simply by selecting a sport and creating a team of your own.

You use a real-life production of the athletes as the basis of a point system that is then measured to determine if you picked better players than your opponent.

Some say selecting the best players based on who they are playing against, as well as their past or future performance, is a skill in itself. A tremendous amount of research can be done to take as many variables into account as possible.

But there is still the element of chance — information that is not public knowledge, like accurate levels of health or anything else that could affect a human being behind the scenes.

Whether wagering money on this sort of activity is gambling has not been fully determined yet — but it could be in a matter of days.

In Ohio, the attorney general said there is a gray area in state law that does not address the legality of players participating in these kinds of games.

One thing is certain, though — players of fantasy sports in Ohio are taking risks. Among them is the risk that all the money they have invested into or won playing the game could simply disappear.

That’s because there are no regulations against something like that happening — at least not yet.

Tuesday, the Ohio House of Representatives will take a concurrence vote on amendments made to House Bill 132, which grants the Ohio Casino Control Commission the authority to regulate fantasy contests and to exempt fantasy contests from the gambling laws.

If the bill passes this vote, it will head to Gov. Kasich’s desk for his signature.

If he signs it, playing fantasy sports in Ohio will be legal and a framework will be put in place to protect those players’ money.

According to one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Jonathan Dever, nearly 2,000,000 Ohioans play fantasy sports annually.

“When you have people that are worried about whether their money is safe on these online platforms and whether these companies are going to disappear overnight and take away their funds, that’s a real concern,” Dever said. “They’re holding people’s money and if you’re going to hold somebody’s money, I want to make sure that there is a process in place to safeguard that money and make sure that those consumers that are playing are protected.”

In addition to making it legal to play online fantasy sports, the bill gives the Casino Control Commission the power to develop rules the sites will have to play by in order to operate within Ohio.

Dever said clarifying the ambiguity of the current statutes and putting protections in place will open the door for Ohioans to develop their own version of the popular fantasy sports sites if they wish.

He also said there was a great deal of interest from major sites like Draft Kings to assist with the bill.

Dever said they want to get regulations in place to protect players. What is unclear is the motivation behind that desire.

Sure, it’s good PR to be able to say, ‘We are helping to protect you,’ But the added regulatory demands that could be created by the Casino Control Commission may be too burdensome for smaller outfits to comply with, especially if a requirement to carry insurance, which may be cost prohibitive, is part of the deal.

The loss of smaller competition would open up a larger market share for the bigger sites to scoop up more players and make more money.

One last-minute amendment that would have added a tax to help fund programs for people with gambling addictions was tabled on the Senate floor.

Dever said the good thing is his bill changes the Ohio revised code so if lawmakers need to take another look at that as an option down the road, they can.

For now, he just wants a straight-forward bill that makes the gaming legal and puts protections in place. It’s a starting point and Dever said we’ll see where it goes from there.

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