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Pro teams back fantasy sports bill

Special to the Legal News

Published: October 2, 2017

Ohio appears to be well on its way to joining 16 other states that have eased gambling laws to permit fantasy sports contests.

Argument in favor of House Bill 132 this week attracted heavy hitters (and kickers) as both the Cincinnati Reds and Columbus Crew went on the record in support of the measure.

"HB 132 will ensure that the millions of Ohioans who support baseball and enjoy the engagement allowed for by fantasy sports may continue to participate in this popular form of entertainment with confidence that the state has adopted a regulatory structure to better protect consumers," Reds CEO Robert Castellini wrote in testimony submitted to members of the Senate Finance Committee.

The Reds organization entered into a sponsorship agreement with fantasy sports giant DraftKings in 2015 - a move coinciding with Major League Baseball's marketing partnership with the online sports contest provider, testimony provided.

Castellini said the partnership allows for a heightened level of fan engagement, resulting in an increased fan knowledge and interest in the team and the game.

Crew SC President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane also wrote in to support the bill.

"Columbus Crew SC remains in favor of lawful and responsible daily fantasy sports in the State of Ohio, including daily fantasy contests which feature Major League Soccer," Loughnane wrote.

Joining major league baseball and soccer, the NFL, NBA, NHL and NASCAR back fantasy sports contests, which lack traditional gambling's systematic element of chance; nor are they outcome determinative, testimony provided.

HB 132, which cleared the Ohio House of Representatives this summer on an 82-15 vote, would require a fantasy contest operator to first obtain a license from the Casino Control Commission before offering a fantasy contest. Cost of the license must not exceed $10,000 for a one-year license or $30,000 for a three-year license.

Additionally, an operator must establish suitability for a license by clear and convincing evidence.

Republican sponsors of the bill, Reps. Jonathan Dever of Cincinnati and Robert McColley of Napoleon, said the bill resulted from Attorney General Mike DeWine's opinion last year that determined a clearer definition of the fantasy contest industry was needed.

Dever said with nearly 2 million Ohioans participating in some form of fantasy sports, clarification of the industry is timely, if not overdue.

"The ... bill updates state laws to clarify fantasy sports are legal in Ohio and add necessary consumer protections," Dever said. "The legislation defines a 'fantasy sports contest' by using guidelines already defined in federal law in The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which specifically excludes providers from the act's provisions.

"The bill also makes clear that all rules must be established and enforced by the Ohio Casino Control Commission."

Under the bill, commercial operators would be subject to regulation including prohibition of play by minors; a requirement to ensure that people who might have an unfair advantage such as athletes, officials and fantasy sports company employees cannot play; a requirement to keep customer funds strictly separate from operating funds so that customer money is always safe and available; a prohibition on fantasy sports based on college or high school athletics; a requirement to provide safe play provisions such as allowing individuals to restrict themselves from playing; and a prohibition on using false or otherwise misleading advertising.

HB 132 was not scheduled for subsequent hearing as of publication.

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