Rep. George Dunbar Wants to Make Daily Fantasy Sports Legal in PA

Daily fantasy sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have dominated the airwaves this football season with ads guaranteeing huge prizes for a relatively small buy-in.

These games are similar to season-long fantasy leagues, but run for only a few days or less. That means a player can play a fantasy contest, choose their team, watch the games run for the day and get paid immediately if they win. The industry is considered to be legal, but has recently drawn the eye of lawmakers who aren’t sure that it should be.

Room for doubt

Pennsylvania Representative George Dunbar is a proponent of daily fantasy sports (DFS) and has sponsored a bill which would clarify the legality of the industry by making it explicitly legal. He believes that fantasy sports are legal in the Commonwealth, but that state laws leave room for doubt. For this reason, he says that Pennsylvania casinos do not offer daily fantasy, and are losing out on potential customers.

Attracting “millennials”

Dunbar, an avid fantasy sports player, understands that profit margins in the DFS industry are not especially high. He believes that by offering daily fantasy contests, casinos can attract some of the sought-after “millennial” demographic, which would hopefully stop by and play other casino games during their visit.

“They’ve been very vocal about finding alternatives to stay competitive with all the neighboring states that have opened casinos, Ohio and Maryland,” Dunbar said. “They know they’re not going to make a lot of money on this. This is essentially collecting money and distributing what they collect. It’s about attracting people to the casino.”

He specifically highlights the Rivers Casino which sits on top of the Pittsburgh Steelers home of Heinz Field. The inclusion of DFS might attract more fans to the stadium to watch the games while they bet on their favorite players.

The carveout

In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement (UIGEA) which effectively shut down the three biggest online poker sites in the world. But inside the legislation, the fantasy sports industry received a carveout, as it is considered a game of skill. Theoretically, Pennsylvania casinos could offer their own DFS games with some confidence in their legality right now, but most don’t think it’s worth the time and risk of having their gaming license taken away.

What Dunbar’s bill would do would be to “codify” the language making the industry totally legal in Pennsylvania. “All the bill would do is say, ‘You can do this if you want to, to hold daily tournaments and attract people if you want to,’” Dunbar said.

His proposal will be discussed at a hearing sometime this fall by the House Gaming Oversight Committee. He believes that the bill could be part of a larger proposal of gambling law changes, or stand on its own. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has been locked in a battle with the Gen. Assembly on the state’s budget package, as of late. Lawmakers like Representative John Payne support online gambling as a way to increase tax revenue, but at the moment, the Assembly seems to be at an impasse.