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Is Betting on Fantasy Football Legal?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Every year, millions of Americans draft fantasy football teams. Many players raise the stakes by adding cash prizes and bets to the mix.

But is playing fantasy football for money illegal? That answer may surprise you.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006

When it comes to fantasy football, federal law is on your team. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 regulates online gambling.

But the law specifically makes an exception for fantasy sports that meet the following requirements:

  1. The fantasy game's result is not dependent solely on the final scores of any real-world games;
  2. Game outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by statistics; and
  3. The prizes are established before the game and the value isn't determined by the number of participants or the amount of fees paid

Most traditional versions of fantasy football comply with this language and therefore fit within the federal law's exception, Sports Law Professor Marc Edelman writes for Forbes. State law, on the other hand, is a whole different story.

State Regulations: A "Chance" Game of Chicken

A trickier matter is how fantasy football fits within state law. According to Edelman, in most states, betting on fantasy football is illegal when the game involves:

  1. consideration (when you throw money in the bucket),
  2. a reward (when you win moola or a prize),
  3. and chance.

It's leaving the outcome of a game up to chance -- rather than using statistics (which has its own legal problems) -- when things get dicey under state law.

"More than" v. "Any"

Most states prohibit playing fantasy football for dollah dollah billz if the game involves more chance than skill. But a few states make play-for-cash games illegal when the outcome is based in any part on chance (even just a teency weency bit).

In these "any chance" states -- including Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Iowa and Tennessee -- playing fantasy football for money may very well violate state gambling laws because it's impossible to completely eliminate the element of chance in a fantasy football game, reports Forbes.

The law varies significantly state-by-state. If your state hasn't followed Maryland and explicitly legalized fantasy football prizes, you may want consult a sports law attorney to learn your local law.

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