State: AG says daily fantasy illegal

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD  — Residents of Illinois who play fantasy sports contests on sites including FanDuel and DraftKings might want to think twice before they play again.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion Wednesday in which she says the contests on such sites constitute illegal gambling under Illinois law as it now stands.

Further, she provided lawyers for both sites copies of her opinion and let them know her office expects gaming sites to amend their terms of use to include Illinois as one of the states whose residents are not eligible to participate.

Attempts to reach those companies’ lawyers late Wednesday afternoon were not successful.

Although Madigan examines several questions in her opinion, she also says the fantasy sites stance that their contests are matters of skill, and not chance, aren’t terribly relevant in Illinois because the state’s criminal code “prohibits the playing of both ‘games of chance or skill for money.’”

That doesn’t mean Illinoisans will forever be forbidden from indulging in the games.

Madigan wrote that Illinoisan residents should be considered ineligible “unless and until the Illinois General Assembly passes legislation specifically exempting daily fantasy sports contests.”

Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, has just such legislation pending in House Bill 4323, the Fantasy Contests Act. State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate as Senate Bill 2193.

Zalewski on Wednesday said Madigan’s opinion provides resolution to a lack of clarity that he and other legislators have recognized.

“It’s clear from my perspective that what we’re to do in the Generally Assembly (is) to reconcile our law to make sure that players are protected with strong consumer protections but also allow them to play this popular game in Illinois,” Zalewski said.

Zalewski noted the attorney general referenced his bill in her opinion, which she sent to the chairman and vice chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for criminal law.

“It’s a very easy change to the law that we can make with a couple strokes of the pen,” Zalewski said. “I’m going to make it my goal to try do that in the spring session, and we’re going to go from there.”

Zalewski has said the legislation would:

  • Define what is considered daily fantasy sports in Illinois and ensure that it is  not gambling under the state’s criminal laws.
  • Bar anyone younger than 18 from playing.
  • Establish “best practices” for the industry, including limits on how often a person can play, letting the sites check players for child-support liens and establishing audit standards.

In fantasy sports, participants open a real-money account with the game operators and — for sports such as baseball and basketball — can play daily if they wish. The fantasy teams are composed of actual athletes who are “drafted” for the fantasy match.

Operators such as DraftKings and FanDuel keep a certain amount or “fee” for administering the entire enterprise.

Both the House and Senate versions of the Fantasy Contests Act remain in committee in their respective chambers.

The legislation is expected to get some pushback from gambling opponents, including Illinois Church Action on Alcohol and Addiction Problems.

Anita Bedell, that group’s executive director, has said it opposes the expansion of gambling in the state and considers the act a major expansion.

Illinois News Network reporter Greg Bishop contributed to this report.

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