Fantasy Felonies


I’m in a fantasy football league with a few of my friends from high school. We were always a straight-laced gang–maybe even a little nerdy, to tell the truth–and we really embraced fantasy football from a young age. To me, and (I think) to everyone in the group–it was a way of making America’s most popular sport feel more intellectual. So our fantasy football league was always kind of geeky.


Now we’re at different schools, and I’m worried the league is growing apart. We added a few new “team owners”–new friends of my old friends–and now people are saying that next year we should “make things interesting” by adding gambling to the mix. I’m not comfortable with this. Isn’t gambling illegal? I don’t want to commit any felonies while I’m playing fantasy football. This is supposed to be fun!


It seems to us that there is more than one issue at play here. There’s an obvious question, of course: is gambling on fantasy football illegal? But there’s also a deeper issue here, and that’s the role that your longtime friends and fantasy football should play in your life.


The simpler question lacks a simple answer. Gambling laws vary from state to state, and the federal government has its own set of laws. The short answer is that gambling on fantasy football is quasi-legal, with many forms of the game being legal in many states, and with the laws being rather loosely enforced when it comes to private games.


The federal government bans gambling on “non-skill” games and gambling that involves the final scores of real-life games. Most fantasy leagues fit the bill for legal gambling under this criteria, but the law also specifies that the winnings should not be determined by the number of players or the amount the players pay for the game–a traditional pool, it would seem, would technically violate this law.


And in the states, things get even messier. Some states ban all gambling games involving any chance at all, which means playing fantasy football for money is illegal. Others have a history of legal fights over fantasy football.


The good news for your gambling friends is that these laws go essentially unenforced against small friendly wagers. Law enforcement is after the big gambling sites, not your $5 buy-in. Legal aides at Hillsboro, Oregon’s Corridge Law say you are unlikely to need criminal defense services of the sort they offer for something like this. Still, this isn’t legal advice, and you won’t catch the experts recommending you do anything illegal or quasi-legal. You’d be on firmer legal ground if you all pitched in and bought trophies or fantasy football belts for the winners, say retailers at Fantasy Champs.


But it’s not clear that your apprehension is rooted only in the legal status of gambling. It seems like you may be uncomfortable with the changing culture of your fantasy football league–and the changing nature of your friendships. This problem is bigger than one rule or policy, and you should be open and honest about it with your friends. Your friends are under no obligation to be the same people they were in high school, but if they still value your friendship, they should be open to hearing about your position and the things that make you uncomfortable. Perhaps they’d be better off being in two leagues–one for their new pro-gambling friends and another for your old “straight-laced” group. Or perhaps they can ease your mind about the bigger issues that surround this change. If your friends truly care about you–and there is no reason to assume that they don’t!–then they will do what they can to meet you halfway. Life is about change, but friendships that are built to last will survive the things life throws at them.


“Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” — Friedrich Nietzsche