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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill to legalize daily fantasy sports games makes progress in Florida Legislature



A pair of bills that would make daily fantasy sports games legal in Florida as other states seek to ban the activity, cleared two key hurdles in the Florida Legislature on Wednesday.

Early on Wednesday, the bill found its first real progress in the Florida Senate, where a bill regulating fantasy sports passed the Senate Regulated Industries Committee over the objections of the chairman of that panel. Then hours later in the House Finance and Tax Committee, a similar bill easily passed the House Finance and Tax Committee - giving it just one more committee stop before it could go to the full Florida House for a vote.

State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would not put odds on his bill ultimately passing the Legislature, but said he's trying to make a good product that includes "reasonable regulations" and provides basic consumer protections. He noted the bill is just now getting through its first committee in the Senate and still has two more to get through.

Under Negron's bill and and one sponsored in the House by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, the state would require fantasy sports companies that offer cash prizes to more than 750 participants to pay $500,000 each to register with the state of Florida and comply with regulations to bar children from playing and prevent employees of fantasy sports games from participating in the games their companies offer. The key to the bill is a provision the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has fought for that would definitively declare fantasy sports games are not forms of gambling and are not subject to state gaming regulations.

Negron pitched his bill as a way to prevent the state from trying to declare fantasy sports games illegal based on current state laws.

"I don't think anyone wants to criminalize an activity that 3 million law abiding citizens are engaged in," said Negron, who said he's concerned that a 1991 Florida Attorney General's opinion could be interpreted as making all fantasy sports illegal.

Senate Regulatory Affairs chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, objected to the bill and was two senators to vote against it. He said he sees a difference in season-long fantasy sports games and the recent proliferation of daily fantasy sports games marketed by companies like FanDuel and DraftKings. He said daily games rely on more chance, which feels more like traditional sports betting, but he said he is not ready to say that definitively yet. He also repeated his concern that discussions around fantasy sports should be part of the state's larger conversation about gambling issues. 

"I think that now that fantasy sports is clearly on the radar, it is now woven into the whole dialogue of gaming," Bradley said.

Bradley wouldn't predict if the bill will ultimately become law, but said the bill is very much alive.

"I will say this: rumors of its complete demise are over-exaggerated," Bradley told reporters after the bill passed.

The bill passed the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on an 8-2 vote. Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami, voted with Bradley agains the bill. In the House Finance and Tax Committee, the bill passed 15-3 vote. 

Both bills have a change from earlier versions that would have required the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to regulate fantasy sports. Now, both bills call for moving that function to the Department of Business and Professional Regulations, which already regulates parimutuel wagering n Florida.

The bill advancing in the Florida Legislature comes a week after the Texas Attorney General declared daily fantasy sports games as likely illegal in that state. Late last year Nevada declared fantasy sports games gambling, and New York's attorney general has sought to bar companies from offering the games in that state. Already, Arizona, Iowa, Lousiana, Montana and Washington had bans to prevent the games.

[Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2016 5:17pm]


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