Fantasy sports wagering: A work in progress

Sep 22, 2015 3:09 AM

Fantasy sports wagering needs a strong dose of “clarity.” That’s the view of MGM Resorts Executive VP Alan Feldman who put my recent question on the subject under his microscope.

“It would be nice to have clarity at the federal level, but we could live with clarity on a state by state basis,” Feldman said. The issue being how is a highly regulated business like Nevada’s number one industry going to fit into the existing mish-mash of federal and state rules.

As for Nevada’s official attitude toward fantasy sports wagering: “It is still a work in progress.”

Which means what? That’s the subject of a lot of conversation and the collective shaking of heads as casino bosses across Nevada tell their customers who the search for answers… well, it sometimes take awhile.

Control Board Chairman A.G. Burnett’s “work in progress” statement was about all he had to say on the subject when he responded to my what’s-the-state-gonna-do question several days ago.

I could understand Burnett’s position. The state is under unusual pressure considering the giant wave of fantasy sports wagering ads the biggest companies in the business have been splashing across Nevada television screens.

Those ads are a reminder of how quickly the public’s preference in entertainment can evolve.

There is a strong public interest in the subject.

Turn your television to any sports-related show for as long as a few minutes and the ads featuring a lot of smiling faces chattering about how easy it was to invest a little money and, in no time at all, withdraw a lot of money are impossible to miss.

Here’s the rest of what Burnett had to say on the subject of his research: “We are analyzing daily fantasy sports and how our statutes may interact with them. We haven’t reached any conclusions or issued opinions.”

Perhaps Burnett will have more to say by the end of the month when the Global Gaming Expo comes to town, giving gaming professionals and followers from around the world the opportunity to discuss this and other issues.

Fantasy sports benefited from a carve-out in 2006 federal legislation that prohibited U.S. financial institutions from processing the payments generated by Internet gambling.

It seems now that not many people were paying attention to fantasy betting then, but on the other hand there must have been a group of visionaries who had a strong sense of how quickly the fantasy wagering business could grow into a monster.

“It’s like it came out of nowhere,” said a middle management casino executive who does not claim to know any more about the subject than the fact that his company’s customers “are talking about it” and he’s not sure how much light he can shed on the subject any time soon.

“It’s all this advertising that’s gotten the attention of people who have to come up with a reaction. Here in Nevada we’ve got casinos full of people who’d invest some money if the casinos got involved in it.”

But of course the last thing casinos want to do is get involved in what many executives see as unregulated gaming. Which brings the discussion back to the exploratory surgery on which Burnett and his team are focusing.

Nevada officials learned some years ago that they had to always keep an eye on what the feds might be thinking because the IRS and various other federal police agencies are constantly coming up with reasons to write new rules for the gaming business.

The conflicts involving marijuana are a good example of the tendency to ignore changes in state laws and to run roughshod over local interests. That’s why the Control Board months ago decided marijuana and the gaming business should not have anything to do with each other. Gaming licensees in Nevada cannot have anything do with the medical marijuana business

That attitude will almost certainly change at some point, what with close to two dozen or so jurisdictions having approved the drug for recreational or medical purposes.

But the law has not changed yet. That’s probably what Burnett had in mind when he spoke of the need to determine how existing laws at the state and federal levels view fantasy wagering.

In the minds of lawyers and regulators who are paid to sweat the small stuff, overlooking anything can lead to big trouble.

The search for clarity can be tedious.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. Email: [email protected].