Legislation

Kansas lawmakers approve measure legalizing fantasy sports

Fantasy sports would be declared a game of skill in Kansas so they wouldn't be illegal under a measure that won final legislative approval Thursday.

The bill would bring clarity to an ongoing dispute over the legal status of fantasy sports leagues, because the Kansas Constitution allows only the state to administer games that fit a broad definition of a lottery, and the state's gambling regulator announced in August it viewed them as illegal lotteries. There have been no known prosecutions.

But Attorney General Derek Schmidt released an opinion in April saying legislators could legalize fantasy sports leagues by declaring that the outcomes depend upon the knowledge and skill of the players. State law considers lottery results to be determined by chance.

The House approved the bill on a 98-21 vote Thursday. The Senate approved it Monday, 37-1, so it goes next to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. His office declined to comment on whether he'll sign it.

In fantasy sports leagues, players compete against one another by making up digital teams out of a pool of real athletes and tracking how well they play in their games. Each player is awarded a score based on the performance of their assortment of athletes, and leagues and fantasy sports websites often award cash prizes to the best teams.

Republican Rep. Brett Hildabrand from Shawnee, who initially introduced the legalization language, said he did so because, "so many Kansans participate in this and we want to make sure that they're operating on the right side of the law."

Fantasy sports have grown in recent years, with about 41.5 million players in the United States and Canada spending an average of $111 on league-related costs in 2014, according to data from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. That's almost more than double the 19.7 million players participating in 2006, according to the study.

Jeremy Kudon, outside counsel to the association, said that fantasy sports have quickly become a "national pastime" and there is now national momentum to define them as legal. The games are legal in all but five states — Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Washington — and Kudon said Iowa and Louisiana are considering bills similar to the one in Kansas.

Republican Rep. Mark Kahrs from Wichita, though, said he voted against it because despite the attorney general's opinion, he believes some types of fantasy sports are "clearly gambling."

Kudon said that fantasy sports are frequently compared to poker and horse racing, but denied that they comparison was apt when it came to regulating them. Both games are the target of state regulations, he said to large part to ensure fairness and avoid corrupting the racing competitions.

To attempt to rig games in order to reap fantasy sports winnings, Kudon said, "You'd have to corrupt five or eight players on eight different teams."

"That's where I think prosecutors can get in and deal with the one-offs," he said.

Kansas' fantasy sports bill would also set new regulations for charity bingo and raffle fundraisers, which Republican Rep. Marc Rhoades from Newton said he opposed, saying it would de-regulate charitable raffles taking in less than $25,000.