MONTPELIER, Vt. -- A top lawyer with the Vermont attorney general's office told a state Senate committee Friday that online daily fantasy sports games are illegal in the state.
And John Treadwell, chief of the criminal division at the attorney general's office, urged against passing a bill that would regulate the games and effectively legalize them.
"Our opinion is that daily fantasy sports fall within the coverage of Vermont's gambling statutes," Treadwell told members of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee.
"Our recommendation is that you not pass this particular piece of legislation," Treadwell said, adding that the attorney general's office would be willing to participate in a broader discussion of Vermont's anti-gambling laws, some of which date back to 1797. He said in a later interview that the fantasy sports industry should not be singled out for a green light.
"Our concern is what [the legislation] does is it takes one variety of illegal, for-profit gambling and makes it legal without any consideration for why this particular one is being chosen and others are not," Treadwell said.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, the Rutland County Republican who leads the committee and favors legalizing the games, asked Treadwell why none of the estimated 100,000 or more Vermonters who play fantasy sports had been prosecuted.
Treadwell said gambling had "not been an enforcement priority" for police or prosecutors in the state.
Industry leaders DraftKings and FanDuel have argued that gambling laws should not apply because their games involve more skill than chance. In the games, players assemble teams of athletes from a given professional sport -- football is the most popular -- and earn points based on those athletes' performances in the day's games. Participants pay entry fees and can win cash.
"The crux of the game is building the best lineup that you can," said Chris Grimm, a lobbyist for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. "And the level of skill that goes into building the lineups is very high. You have to be incredibly knowledgeable about the game, about the matchups."
But the outcomes can be affected by anything from an injury to a chosen player to the weather on game day, industry lobbyists acknowledged during the hearing.
"There is an element of chance," Treadwell said, which is why a New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office sued the companies to halt their operations. They're continuing to operate in New York while the companies appeal a judge's order that they stop.
Illinois' attorney general has concluded that "entering into daily fantasy sports sites is no different than wagering on the outcome of sporting events and is therefore prohibited under that state's gambling statute," Treadwell said. A lawsuit is pending there, too.