Lobbyists lining up to help fantasy sports in Florida

Oct 27, 2015 3:09 AM

Listen carefully and you may hear the sounds of re-appraisals taking shape within the casino business. The sound of new ideas falling into place is unmistakable.

It’s happened before and will happen again as imagineers eye what they think of as undeveloped opportunities.

Sports wagering of one kind or another is the source of much of this noise, the sounds of change.

Take Florida, for instance. Most of the seven professional sports teams there have invested in daily fantasy wagering opportunities, and the Fantasy Wagering Association has allocated a $70,000 budget to hire lobbyists who have one goal in mind: making sure lawmakers stay on their side. Florida has a population base big enough to support such changes.

After all, the law is what lawmakers say it is. The courts and AGs here and there stay busy interpreting these actions and the Sheldon Adelsons of the world bring their mega-sized bankrolls to bear on issues of their choosing. But it all begins with the law and what it says.

Conflicting forces combine to fuel conversation, which often leads to the action that gives birth to the concepts that make a difference.

It all comes down to where consenting adults want to invest their time, money and energy, and, oh yes, having the best lawyers with influential people on their speed dial is always helpful.

The day may come when a review of new approaches to familiar goals leads lawmakers and regulators to conclude that perhaps daily fantasy sports betting really is a game of skill, like chess or playing the stock market as a fantasy sports company official was recently arguing

But there is money changing hands, some analysts burdened by a reluctance to accept “new thinking” may argue. Isn’t that gambling? Isn’t it unregulated gambling? Isn’t unregulated gambling against the law? Haven’t any number of attorneys general said it is illegal?

Well yeah, but…

So let’s change the law, the other side will argue. Tweak it a bit. Look at all this discretionary spending power looking for a place to go.

Remember what happened to prohibition? People decided it was a bad idea and so it went away. The same thing is in the process of happening to marijuana laws. It’s sounding like recreational weed may be legal in Nevada by the end of next year.

As for gambling-related issues, an important door was opened several years ago when the Department of Justice took a close look at the so-called Wire Act and decided it related only to sports betting as an inter-state activity. This was after years of serving as a barrier to the gaming opportunities created by technology that did not exist when the Wire Act became law.

Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith was correct last week when he reminded people that sports betting and daily fantasy wagering are two different stories, but congressional activity of any kind would open a door leading to a wide-ranging discussion of expansion beyond existing limits.

It may be the courts that get things moving. Let’s see what happens when the full Third Circuit Court of Appeals – not just a three-judge panel – reviews New Jersey’s failed bid to install sports betting in Atlantic City casinos.

In the meantime, wouldn’t New Jersey and other jurisdictions love to have legal access to a “game of skill” such as daily fantasy wagering?

The signs of new thinking are in recent presentations by the American Gaming Association that seem to suggest the possibility of partnerships with major sports leagues such as the NFL, which was opposed at one time to any connection with casino gambling.

That particular release praised the NFL’s willingness to hold games in London at a stadium located in the midst of a lot of regulated bookmaking, and even consider London as an expansion city.

A more recent presentation suggested daily fantasy sports wagering had probably done a lot to increase business levels at Nevada’s legal sportsbooks. AGA officials have not recently made themselves available to discuss either of these two statements, but the sounds of new possibilities taking shape are unmistakable.

One of the likely problems for the Association’s leadership is that there are widely different views about online gaming and sports betting activity among its members. For instance, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson is flatly opposed to online gaming. He is also heavily invested in Nevada where the Control Board has declared daily fantasy sports wagering is off limit to companies not having a sportsbook license.

Why? Because it is unregulated and therefore illegal gambling, according to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. It’s a safe bet that the Board would frown at any licensee ignoring one of its mandates.

But the Gaming Association also has members who have little if anything to do with Nevada casino business and the regulations in effect here.

It’s probably a challenge for Association leadership to navigate a safe path between opposing factions who feel differently about issues that wash across the entire industry.

And that’s not a fantasy wager.

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