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Is Fantasy Football Illegal? Florida Says Yes

Feeling good about drafting Josh Freeman in your 'pay-to-play' fantasy football league? You may have committed a criminal offense.

As I was preparing for my fantasy draft(s) last weekend, my wonderful wife reminded me of an article I researched to determine whether midway games are illegal gambling. She then asked, “Isn’t your fantasy football league illegal?”

I quickly reminded her that the particular league I was preparing for was a free league and pleaded the fifth on my multiple other leagues. 

So the question becomes, if you live in Florida, and you are part of one of the hugely popular fantasy football pay leagues, are you committing a criminal offense? The answer is yes! In fact, it is a second-degree misdemeanor. 

Our elected officials enacted section 849.14, Florida Statutes, which says:

Whoever stakes, bets or wagers any money or other thing of value upon the result of any trial or contest of skill, speed or power or endurance of human or beast, or whoever receives in any manner whatsoever any money or other thing of value staked, bet or wagered, or offered for the purpose of being staked, bet or wagered, by or for any other person upon any such result, or whoever knowingly becomes the custodian or depositary of any money or other thing of value so staked, bet, or wagered upon any such result, or whoever aids, or assists, or abets in any manner in any of such acts all of which are hereby forbidden, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

The Florida Attorney General issued a formal opinion that specifically applied fantasy football to the list of “illegal” gambling (Op.Atty.Gen. 91-3, Jan. 8, 1991). 

Apparently your decision to choose Josh Freeman, the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, over Tim Tebow was a choice of luck over an intelligent and skillful decision. Freeman is virtually guaranteed to give you more fantasy points than our beloved Tebow, who is now the “2B” quarterback in Denver.

Even more so, you chose running back Chris Johnson as your first pick rather than Matt Prater, who is the kicker for Denver and hasn’t been drafted in almost millions of drafts across the world. How “lucky” you were.    

When I did the research for this article, I was actually shocked that fantasy football pay leagues are illegal. This also means that our March Madness brackets are illegal as well. 

Notably, not all courts and states agree with Florida. A federal court in New Jersey specifically said that choosing and managing a fantasy team required skill.   

What is shocking is that fantasy sports are a major part of society and provide a huge economic impact. In fact, in 2006, a law school student from North Carolina did a wonderful article discussing the positives and negatives of fantasy football on the economy. The author suggested that the total economic impact of fantasy leagues is about $1.65 billion per year. The article continues to discuss the justifications for why fantasy leagues should be legal. 

Well, I am off to study my draft rankings for my next draft. Despite my best efforts, I have never won this league, and my co-conspirators claim it is because I am simply terrible at fantasy football. I will remind the league that choosing Aaron Rodgers as my first pick over the second-string Bucs quarterback (oh yeah, he was released) is matter of luck.

Larry Bush September 18, 2011 at 04:58 AM
Invariably, when a team from Florida is pitted in a major contest against a team from another state, there is a wager between the governors. The bet does not usually involve cash, but products of the state. However, if I read the statute correctly "anything of value" would make those very public bets illegal as well.

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