A Legal Play

I love sports. I love the excitement of the game, cheering for my team, and predicting what might happen. I love all kinds of contests, especially ones in which I’m involved. I love risk and surprises, and the joy of winning!


I also like sports gambling. I visited Las Vegas on a family trip, and I made some bets on sporting events happening during our stay. When I watched those games on TVs in the restaurant at which we ate, I found them more exciting than ever. I know that sports gambling is illegal in many places, including here, so I figured that would have to be a one-time thing.


Then, I thought about fantasy sports. I know people who gamble on fantasy football leagues. Plus, online fantasy games exist. Are those illegal? What’s the deal with those?


Sports and gambling both have long histories, and those histories intertwine. Sports can be good clean fun, and so can gambling, in the opinions of many people. However, put the two together, and you can find many problems.


Sporting events are played out by humans, which means that we depend on human integrity to keep them “clean.” However, gambling provides an incentive for players to “throw” games, as happened with the infamous “Black Sox” scandal.


Gambling in general has its problems, too. Some say gambling addiction is real, and that those who suffer from it often ruin their finances and their lives, as well as those of their families, friends, and other loved ones.


So, there are good reasons that governments might want to get involved with gambling and make laws that regulate it and, sometimes, ban it.


What are those laws? That’s the tricky thing, because so many different ones exist. Part of the reason for that is that multiple levels of government have a say in how gambling is regulated. Our legal system is somewhat unique thanks to our federal system: our state and federal systems each have their own jurisdictions, and one is not superior than the other. That’s different than in other countries like Canada, say the pros at Preszler Law BC, ICBC lawyers who also specialize in other areas. In the United States, the federal government has its say on gambling, because gambling money can change hands across state lines, which means the federal government’s responsibility to regulate interstate commerce gives it the power to legislate on the issue. However, gambling can also be regulated by the states, because, of course, it’s easy enough to think of ways to gamble without crossing state lines.


Federal law bans gambling, but it carves out exceptions for games that involve skill. There are also other regulations, like the fact that the price money at stake cannot be determined by the number of participants. That means no gambling on sports across state lines, but it leaves open the possibility of betting on your own fantasy football team.


However, remember that the states must have their say. Some states use stricter rules than others, and those with more strict policies won’t allow gambling on games involving any chance or luck at all. You could pick your fantasy team well, but you still must hope your players stay healthy and play well. You have no control over that, so betting on fantasy football would be illegal in such states. The same rules would apply to your local league and big fantasy sites, assuming all other variables are held equal.


How things play out for you, then, depends on what your state has to say about this. However, before you rush off to see if you can start betting big bucks on “fantasy” websites in your state, remember: gambling can be addictive.


Gambling addicts become hooked on the rush of risk and the joy of winning. They lose their ability to evaluate their risks, and to recognize when they’ve gone too far. For gambling addicts, a casino or an online betting site have the same kind of irresistible pull that a narcotic has for a narcotics addict or that a bottle of booze has for an alcoholic. It’s possible to lose control of a gambling habit, and the result can be devastating to your finances, your relationships, and your mental health. Even casual gamblers should be aware of gambling’s risks, just as casual drinkers should have a basic knowledge of the risks of alcohol.


You love sports and enjoy contests, but that doesn’t mean you must become a heavy gambler. Winning a prize in your fantasy league could mean winning a fantasy football trophy or a dinner on your league-mates rather than an outright payment of cold, hard cash. Besides, most fantasy league buy-in systems would run afoul of laws that ban prizes that scale with the size of the contestant pool. Although the chances are good that such a law wouldn’t be enforced against a small fantasy league, it’s never a good idea to break the law.


As for fantasy sites, they’re quite profitable, but they don’t make that money because betting on fantasy football is a profitable enterprise for the players. Besides, investigators have found that such websites aren’t always playing fair. Fair or not (and legal or not), the house always wins, so be careful!


That’s not to say that you can’t bet at all (if your state allows it in the form that you partake in). However, be conscious of how you bet. Set limits on your spending, and treat the money you gamble as a payment for entertainment. Winning should be gravy, not the point of the exercise. If the point is to make money, then gambling is a bad method.


We’ll trust you to use the information we shared here in an appropriate fashion. We hope you continue to love watching sports and participating in contests, and that you enjoy a healthy relationship with gambling throughout your life. If you ever feel that you or a loved one has a problem with gambling, we urge you to reach out and get help as soon as possible.


“My favorite water cooler topic is fantasy football. I used to make fun of friends for doing it, and now, I’m obsessed.” – John Krasinski

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