Ohio lawmakers seek to legalize fantasy sports and add protection

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Sunday is synonymous with several things, football being one of them; fans eagerly checking their televisions, computers, or phones for the latest scores and stats.

Over the past couple of decades, fantasy sports has grown in popularity.

You can play against other people online simply by selecting a sport and creating a team of your own.

You use the real-life production of the athletes as the basis of a point system that is then measured to determine if you picked better players than your opponent.

Some say selecting the best players based on who they are playing against, as well as their past/future performance is a skill in itself.

A tremendous amount of research can be done to take as many variables into account as possible.

But there is still the element of chance; or things that cannot be predicted, information that is not public knowledge like accurate levels of health or anything else that could affect a human being behind the scenes.

Whether wagering money on this sort of activity is gambling has not fully been determined yet but could be in a matter of days.

In the state of Ohio, the Attorney General says there is a grey area in state law that does not address the legality of players participating in these kinds of games.

One thing is certain though, players of fantasy sports in Ohio are taking risks; among them is the risk that all the money they have invested into or won playing the game could simply disappear.

That’s because there are no regulations against something like that happening, at least not yet.

Tuesday, the Ohio House of Representatives will take a concurrence vote on amendments made to HB 132 which grants the Ohio Casino Control Commission the authority to regulate fantasy contests and to exempt fantasy contests from the gambling laws.

If the bill passes this vote, it will head to Gov. Kasich’s desk for his signature.

If he signs it, playing fantasy sports in Ohio will be legal and a framework will be put into place to protect those players money.

According to one of the bills primary sponsors, Rep. Jonathan Dever, nearly 2,000,000 Ohioans play fantasy sports annually.

“When you have people that are worried about whether their money is safe on these online platforms and whether these companies are going to disappear overnight and take away their funds; that’s a real concern,” said Dever. “They’re holding people’s money and if you’re going to hold somebody’s money I want to make sure that there is a process in place to safeguard that money and make sure that those consumers that are playing are protected.”

In addition to making it legal to play online fantasy sports, the bill gives the Casino Control Commission the power to develop rules the sites will have to play by in order to operate within Ohio.

Dever says clarifying the ambiguity of the current statutes and putting protections in place will open the door for Ohioans to develop their own version of the popular fantasy sports sights, if they wish.

He also says, there was a great deal of interest from major sites like Draft Kings to assist with the bill.

Dever says they want to get regulations in place to protect players.

What is unclear is the motivation behind that desire.

Sure, it is good PR to be able to say, ‘we are helping to protect you,’ but the added regulatory demands that could be created by the Casino Control Commission may be too burdensome for smaller outfits to comply with; especially if a requirement to carry insurance, which may be cost prohibitive, is part of the deal.

The loss of smaller competition would open up a larger market share for the bigger sites to scoop up more players and make more money.

One last-minute amendment that would have added a tax that would have helped fund programs to help people with a gambling addiction was tabled on the Senate floor.

Dever says the good thing is his bill changes the Ohio revised code, so if lawmakers need to take another look at that as an option down the road they can.

For now, he just wants a straightforward bill that makes the gaming legal and puts the protections in place. It’s a starting point, and Dever says we’ll see where it goes from there.

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