No sports betting should be a crime

If you have watched any football during the NFL season, you probably saw an advertisement for DraftKings or FanDuel. Part of the rapidly expanding industry of daily fantasy sports betting, each company is worth more than $1 billion and counting, with an estimate 57 million people in North America participating.

In addition to being big business, fantasy sports betting has become an integral part of the sports fan’s experience, which even the major leagues seem to recognize with individual NFL teams even forming official “partnerships” with the daily betting sites.

However, the aggressive advertising campaigns of daily fantasy sports betting sites has raised some eyebrows, and now one lawmaker is calling for an investigation into their legal status. While some may see the hearing as a threat to the big business of fantasy sports betting, it may just be a chance for Congress to address the ludicrous federal ban on actual sports betting.

Rep. Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat and the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has sent a letter to Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee chairman, requesting a hearing to examine the legal status of fantasy sports gambling, as well as sports gambling and the relationship between the professional leagues and fantasy sports.

“These sites are enormously popular, arguably central to the fans’ experience, and professional leagues are seeing the enormous profits as a result,” Pallone said in a statement. “Despite how mainstream these sites have become, though, the legal landscape governing these activities remains murky and should be reviewed.”

In his letter, Pallone noted relevant federal laws that could apply to online fantasy sports betting, but a hearing is necessary to review “the interplay between these federal laws.”

The answer to the question “is fantasy sports betting legal” is simple — and it’s not.

The language of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) exempting fantasy-sports betting trumps older for two reasons. In legal theory, there is a doctrine known as the “maxim of construction,” which holds that the more recent of two conflicting statutes governs. Similarly, the doctrine states that the more specific law prevails over the more general one. So, as long as sites adhere to the requirements of the so-called UIGEA that fantasy sports carve out, they are legal.

However, because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), betting on nonfantasy sports — outside of the four states that had legalized sports betting prior to PASPA’s enactment — is illegal. New Jersey has been waging a war to overturn this federal prohibition — or at least to skirt it — and allow gamblers in the state to bet on sports within the state, a change that could bring much needed revenue to faltering Atlantic City.

However, their efforts have been unsuccessful and have been opposed by professional and amateur sports leagues every step of the way. And perhaps that is the true intent of a hearing: not discuss the legality of fantasy sports gambling, but to discuss the illegality of nonfantasy sports betting.

The news release prepared by Pallone’s office described him as “a strong advocate for legalized and regulated professional sports betting” and the money it would bring to New Jersey. “Fans are currently allowed to risk money on the performance of an individual player. How is that different than wagering money on the outcome of a game?,” he asked.

He’s got me. Why is it legal for adults to spend money gambling on fantasy sports, buying lottery tickets, or hell, even making a bad $10 bet on a movie, but it’s illegal to apply one’s knowledge of sports to bet legally on the game? I hope, if Pallone gets the hearing he wants, other lawmakers will be at a similar loss and will consider repealing this ineffective and unconstitutional law once and for all.