Washington State has particularly restrictive online anti-gambling laws that prohibit games of skill, played for money, that contain even a relatively small element of chance. As a result, almost all major fantasy sports websites (including FanDuel and DraftKings, the industry leader and runner-up, respectively) block residents from the State of Washington from participating in their paid fantasy sports contests.
Relief could be on the way for Washington State fantasy sports enthusiasts, however. A bill with bi-partisan support, sponsored by State Representative Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle) and State Senator Pam Roach (R-Auburn), has been introduced in the Washington legislature that would amend certain of Washington’s anti-gambling provisions to specifically designate fantasy sports contests (that adhere to certain criteria) as games of skill, exempt from State gambling prohibitions.
Washington Follows DC in Fantasy Sports Too
The Washington bill is consistent with a spate of recently proposed state legislation in that it closely tracks the federal law exemption established by the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (“UIGEA”). In this respect, the Washington bill mirrors a law that was passed in Maryland in May 2012, a bill that was proposed recently in Indiana and another bill that was put forth in Montana.
The Washington bill reiterates each of the required elements set forth in UIGEA that a given fantasy sports contest must satisfy in order to earn exemption under applicable law. Specifically, the bill states:
- All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and the value of the prizes and awards is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.
- All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals in multiple real world sporting or other events.
- A winning outcome is not based:
- On the score, point spread, or performance of any single real world team or any combination of teams; or
- Solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real world sporting or other event.
The Washington bill does enjoy bi-partisan support in both State legislative bodies, and has received the public backing of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Further, not only is the Washington bill representative of a trend in state legislatures across the country, but the merits of the bill will be decided at a time of unprecedented fantasy sports buy-in from major professional sports leagues, media companies and Wall St. investors. Given these prospects, those in favor of the legalization of fantasy sports in the State of Washington have cause for optimism.
The evolution of state law applicable to fantasy sports remains a significant topic for all gaming attorneys, fantasy sports lawyers and those interested in fantasy sports law in general. If you plan on engaging in, or operating, a fantasy sports or other gaming venture, you should retain competent legal counsel to help you design your contests so that they comport with applicable law.