Fantasy Land

Instead of banning online gambling such as daily fantasy outright, Montana should try to capitalize on its popularity

By Kellyn Brown

I’m dead last in my fantasy football league in the first year I’ve ever played. With no cable, I mostly conduct research online on which players from my roster I should start each week, and sports writer Dillon Tabish (who participates in three leagues) offers some pointers. While I’m hoping to turn the season around, it doesn’t look good.

The game has provided a fun diversion during the NFL season. I paid an entry fee to play in this private league. And since I’m one of the last among my friends to join one, I never questioned the legality of this type of betting. That is, until the daily fantasy websites DraftKings and FanDuel began to draw attention from regulators in several states after concerns surfaced about insider trading.

Montana regulators are not involved in these inquiries because this state is one of just a handful where online daily fantasy sports betting is illegal. Why this state, home to slot machines in most bars and casinos on most Main Streets, disallows daily fantasy gambling appeared a little odd. But that confusion cleared up quickly.

Similar to the state’s unusual liquor license law, which is based on a widely criticized quota system, gambling rules are also difficult to change. State Rep. Forrest Mandeville, a Republican from Columbus, tried to relax the system earlier this year when he proposed legislation that would allow some gambling on daily fantasy sports. The Montana Tavern Association, like it had for proposals to change liquor laws, opposed the bill. It died in committee.

What’s ironic about these restrictions is our state actually allows limited daily fantasy gambling. Except it’s run by the state lottery and users can only play by accessing the site at a Montana Sports Action retailer.

As opposed to season-long fantasy leagues (like the one in which I participate), daily fantasy gamblers choose a new team each week they hope will do well during that weekend’s NFL games. Winners, who are posted by the state online, emerge from how many points they score and how many yards they accumulate.

I wouldn’t encourage anyone to gamble more, especially in light of investigations into the two major daily fantasy sites. However, questions about those operations are not at all why you can’t log on and wager your money.

In Montana, the argument goes that these bets involve chance “in part,” which under state law requires tight restrictions, more so than in other states. Mandeville had simply tried to redefine fantasy sports to allow residents to bet up to $100.

That opposition to his legislation would hold more water if Montanans weren’t already allowed to walk into taverns and casinos and place as many bets as they’d like on chance games such as video poker, keno, and so-called line games, which were added in 2012 and touted as a way to make up for losses following the statewide smoking ban in bars.

Instead of banning online gambling such as daily fantasy outright, Montana should try to capitalize on its popularity. Regulate and tax it like other games, such as slot machines, which are allowed across the state are require far less skill.

As proof by my last-place performance in my inaugural year, I have no business playing season-long or the prohibited daily fantasy football leagues. But I also think it’s a little strange that other Montanans, who know far more about football than I do, can’t play either. Except, of course, if they do so through the state, which is happy to take your money.

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