Washington bill targets DFS ads, operators

Should operating large-scale daily fantasy companies be a felony offense? A Washington State Rep. thinks so. AP Photo/Stephan Savoia

The state of Washington already has some of the strictest laws on fantasy sports in the nation. It is one of a handful of states that prohibits playing fantasy sports for money online. State Rep. Christopher Hurst wants to re-emphasize those laws as a warning to the largest daily fantasy operators.

A public hearing is scheduled for Monday at 1:30 p.m. PT in Olympia, Washington to discuss Hurst's bill (HB 2370) that would declare fantasy sports are games of chance and emphasize operating and/or advertising large-scale games is a Class C felony in the state.

Hurst said he has contacted the state attorney general's office and said an investigation is underway. The AG's office told ESPN it could not confirm or deny an investigation.

Washington State Sen. Pam Roach also has introduced a bill (SB 5282) that attempts to clarify the legality of small-scale fantasy games.

Roach's bill would declare fantasy sports are games of skill, not gambling, and would allow the games under limited conditions, including a 50-player limit per league, a $50 maximum entry fee and the contest must consist of at least 50 percent of the sport's season.

Both bills are in committee.

Hurst discussed his bill with Chalk this week ahead of Monday's hearing.

Chalk: Does your bill target fantasy sports players or just operators?

Hurst: This isn't going after Washington citizens. This is going after people that are preying on Washington citizens. So, if you operate or advertise (fantasy sports), you'd be subject to this. But playing it doesn't have anything to do with it.

If you think about it, if a group of people got together on their own and decided to takes bets on it and no one was taking a rake, this bill probably doesn't cover them, because this simply talks about purveyors and advertisers. This is only where you're running it as a business.

I think fantasy sports are a fun, neat idea, and people have a good time with them. But, now, you have [companies that have] kind of perverted it and prostituted it into something that is unhealthy, not fun and it's ruining people's lives.

Chalk: The bill states, "the legislature finds that fantasy sports games are games of chance rather than skill and therefore constitute illegal gambling under the laws of this state." What evidence are you relying on to claim that fantasy sports are games of chance?

Hurst: If you look at scientific probability, it is impossible to predict in that short of a timeframe the mathematical probabilities of the outcome of anything, unless you have inside or illegal information. So, I think if you are doing fantasy sports season-long, which is how this all started, that involves skill, no question about it.

We actually floated to the lobbyists for DraftKings and FanDuel the concept of [putting] some sidebars around this. Let's take the portion that is legitimate, season-long betting. They went nuts over that. They said, 'if you try to run a bill that goes to season-long betting, we will kill it.' So just for fun, I said, 'how about half-season?' They said 'No, that's dead on arrival. We'll spend whatever it takes to kill that bill.' And we said, what if we extend it out to weeklong betting. 'No, no, no, our business model would collapse instantaneously.' They basically want instantaneous betting, which is nothing more than a slot machine.

Chalk: What has been the response to your bill?

Hurst: A lot of people like it. They think it's a good idea, because they can't stand the commercials anymore. It got to the point where it seemed like half of all the commercials on television were for DraftKings or FanDuel. It was just nauseating. You couldn't hardly watch anything anymore. Everybody you ran into was just like, 'we just can't take these anymore.'

Chalk: What are some examples of Class C felonies in Washington?

Hurst: Class C felonies could be small-time things in Washington State. Check fraud is a felony. A lot of minor types of theft are a felony. Using a stolen credit card number is technically a felony. Selling someone a gram of marijuana that doesn't come from a licensed store is technically a felony. A single Class C felony, most of the time, isn't going to get you much or any jail time, certainly not prison time. You're probably going to get probation or some supervision to try to change your behavior. However, if you get multiple felonies, you've got a problem on your hands, because you're not going to do just prison time, you're going to do a lot of prison time.

So the value of a felony versus a misdemeanor is you have this cumulative ability to actually put a person in prison for a very long time. And if you have someone who was persistent in the behavior -- for example running ads after they were told not to -- and each one was a separate count, you could charge the person with each of these counts. You could see a person spending 10, 20, 30 (years), life in prison potentially, if they continue to engage in a felony.

Chalk: What's the timeline for your bill?

Hurst: We're having a public hearing on it on Monday. We expect, from the comments we've already gotten, pretty heavily attended. (laughs) I think it will probably be a packed house. If the members out of the committee want to pass out it out of committee, we'll pass it out of committee. We don't generally move bills the same day we hear them. That would be uncommon. It might be up for exec within a week. Then it would go to the rules committee, and if it got pulled from the rules committee, it would go to the House of Representatives. If it passed there, it would head over to the Senate.

Chalk: So we're looking at ultimate result possibly in the spring?

Hurst: No, it would be pretty fast, because this is our short session this year. This is only a 60-day session, and we're in the third day (Wednesday). So it would be occurring by the 11th of March at the very latest. And it could be signed into law 10 days after that by the governor.