Playing the game? Texas House to hear bill on fantasy sports

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Is it a game of skill or a game of chance? The Texas House will be asking that question and many more this week as it considers House Bill 2303, legislation aimed toward making fantasy sports legal in Texas.

The bill, authored by State Rep. Joseph Moody, D-El Paso, makes the case that fantasy sports is a game of skill and those who play it in Texas do not violate Texas law. In the eyes of the state, fantasy sports is illegal gambling.

“It’s going to confirm what Texans have known for a long time – that fantasy sports is legal to play in our state and it clearly defines it as a game of skill and not a game of chance, something that fantasy sports players already know,” Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for the Texas Fantasy Sports Alliance, said.

This isn’t the first time fantasy sports has been up for debate in Texas. During the rise of popular fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel in 2015, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton estimated 700,000 Texans were breaking the law by playing. 

In 2016, Paxton also issued an opinion, which in part states: “a person commits an offense if he or she makes a bet on the partial or final result of a game or contest or on the performance of a participant in a game or contest. Because the outcome of games in daily fantasy sports leagues depends partially on chance, an individual’s payment of a fee to participate in such activities is a bet.”

Paxton’s opinion also stated participants of traditional fantasy sports leagues aren’t illegally gambling if it’s done privately and “no person receives any economic benefit other than personal winnings and the risks of winning or losing are the same for all participants.”

The fantasy sites poured in nearly half a million dollars to Texas lobbyists in 2017 looking to make their games legal in the state.

This session, under HB 2303, a bet does not include an offer of a prize, award or compensation to the participants in a fantasy or simulated game or contest. In fantasy sports, the value of any prize, award or compensation must also be established in advance of the beginning of the game or contest.

Rep. Moody’s bill is focused on decriminalizing fantasy sports for Texans and isn’t necessarily a step toward legalized sports betting.

The Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting outside Nevada in 2018, but Texas leaders are not anywhere close to considering legalized sports betting.

“Regardless of how any of us feel about fantasy sports, no one should be subject to arrest and prosecution because they played a game,” Rep. Moody stated in a release. “This narrowly written bill will protect good people from being senselessly branded as criminals by clarifying that fantasy sports are always legal in Texas.”

The bill also defines fantasy or simulated game or contest in which the outcome of the game or contest is determined by the accumulated statistical performances of the individual athletes on a participant’s fictional sports team.

However, Rob Kohler, a consultant for the Christian Life Commission, feels the bill would open doors to a form of gambling. Kohler believes a constitutional amendment is needed.

“What we maintain is look, there’s obviously chance in the game,” Kohler said. “Somebody getting hurt, a player getting pulled or a coach making a different decision.”

“What these folks are talking about is introducing this type of activity on your phones and your computers,” he added.

According to the Texas Fantasy Sports Alliance, 20 other states have adopted similar legislation.

HB 2303 was reported favorably by the Texas House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures on April 4th. Pending passage in the Texas House, HB 2303 will be sent to the Texas Senate for consideration.

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