Republican introduces bill to legalize fantasy sports

January 26, 2016


MADISON— Big-time online fantasy sports sites could operate legally in Wisconsin if their founders pay the state thousands of dollars in registration fees under a bill a Republican lawmaker introduced Monday.

Rep. Tyler Vorpagel's proposal calls for anyone who offers fantasy games for a cash prize to more than 750 people to register with the state Department of Financial Institutions. The initial registration fee would be $150,000. Annual renewals would cost $30,000.

The bill would specify that fantasy sports games aren't betting or lotteries, allowing operators to run them legally in the state. Current Wisconsin law prohibits making a bet, conducting a lottery or engaging in other gambling activities.

Vorpagel, a freshman legislator from Plymouth, wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors that a federal law passed in 2006 that generally outlaws online gambling permits fantasy sports games as contests of skill but defers to state law.

"I think it's important to clarify that these games of skill are allowed and not viewed as gambling," Vorpagel wrote. A Vorpagel aide didn't immediately respond to an email requesting an interview with the lawmaker.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association, an organization that promotes the fantasy sports industry, also didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the bill.

The dispute over whether online fantasy sports constitute gambling has heated up in recent months.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit in December to stop fantasy websites FanDuel and DraftKings from operating in that state, alleging the companies are operating illegal gambling operations. The attorney general amended the lawsuit this month to demand the two companies return money to users who lost it in 2015 and pay a fine of up to $5,000 per case. DraftKings' attorney has called the lawsuit baseless.

Nevada regulators ordered daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel to shut down in October, saying the sites can't operate there without a gambling license.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion in December that fantasy sports betting amounts to illegal gambling in that state. FanDuel and DraftKings have sued over the opinion, arguing it could destroy a legitimate industry. Democratic Illinois state Rep. Mike Zalewski has introduced a bill similar to Vorpagel's that would legalize fantasy sports in that state.

The prospects for Vorpagel's bill are unclear. Spokeswomen for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald didn't immediately respond to an email inquiring about the bill's chances.

The proposal is the latest in a blizzard of legislation Republicans have introduced as the session winds down and they prepare to hit the campaign trail. Vos has said he wants the Assembly to wrap up its work by the end of February; Fitzgerald hopes to finish by March.

Associated Press