They bill themselves as just another iteration of the fantastically popular sports games where participants draft fantasy teams of real players and then compete against one another based on the real-world performance of those real-world players.
But these new websites do something new. They, well, kind of seem like gambling. Participants still draft players, but only on a weekly or even daily basis, and they can win cash prizes based on the performance of the chosen players. So what was a game of skill starts to look like a game of chance.
And now the government is cracking down. Players in states like Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Washington can’t use the services. The State of New York has banned them, too, and in Oregon there is a lawsuit working its way through the courts which claims the websites are illegal online gambling operations.
Still, the websites are immensely popular, despite the legal gray area they operate in.
Recently advertising for the websites at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks (home to the University of North Dakota hockey teams) caused enough of a stir to warrant headlines, and that got me wondering.
What’s the status of these services in North Dakota?
I asked the Attorney General’s office if anyone in the state has requested a formal opinion on the legality of these services. “There have been no complaints or opinion requests concerning Fan Duel/Draft Kings,” spokeswoman Liz Brocker told me via email.
Asked if the AG’s office had taken any action at all regarding the websites, I was told they haven’t. “This is a developing area of law. Our office is monitoring cases brought in other states,” Brocker told me.
I also asked if the services are legal in the state, but the AG’s office says they don’t offer legal advice. So I guess we’ll have to interpret for ourselves. Here’s the current definition of gambling – which is illegal in North Dakota outside of specific exemptions – in state law:
When you use FanDuel or Draft Kings you pay money to draft a team of players, and then you either lose that money or win more money based on the outcome of the performance of those players.
While I personally have no objection to that sort of game, it sure sounds like gambling to me as defined by state law which defines that term, in part, as risking any thing of value on the outcome of something like a sporting event.
You could argue, I suppose, that there is skill involved in terms of discerning which players will perform well because of favorable match ups, etc. But really you could say when making a bet on, say, the Denver Broncos to win a football game.
Games like poker and black jack have an element of skill as well to go along with the chance, and there’s no question that wagering on those games is gambling.
Which doesn’t these websites bad – they sound like a lot of fun to me – but probably makes them illegal under state law. Though it’s not clear that our state officials are going to be doing much to crack down at the moment.
Maybe it’s time for North Dakota to ease up on its gambling restrictions.