Wagner sees lawmakers 'eventually' wading into fantasy sports arena
BOSTON >> A key member of House leadership says he believes the Massachusetts Legislature will "eventually" take action to deal with the burgeoning daily fantasy sports industry, but does not share the Gaming Commission's belief that it must act quickly.
Since daily fantasy sports (DFS) erupted into the public consciousness at the beginning of the NFL football season, legislative leaders have expressed interest in regulating and possibly taxing fantasy sports wagering, but so far no lawmaker has filed legislation to address the topic.
"I don't think we can look at it and say, 'we should do it,' unless we know everything about what it is we propose that we might legislate or regulate and I think we're still in the process of developing, concretely, our thoughts about those things," said Rep. Joseph Wagner, the House chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies and one of the legislators who drafted the 2011 casino law. "The last thing you want to do is run and jump and not know what you're jumping into."
Last month, the Gaming Commission issued a white paper on fantasy sports and declared there is "some urgency" for the Legislature to weigh in on the legality and regulation of a form of sports wagering that has taken off in recent months with a major advertising push.
"Right now, it appears to us that the law concerning DFS is at best unsettled, and that there is a possibility that DFS could be considered illegal, even though the Attorney General has seen fit to move directly to the issues that really matter — consumer protection regulations that will permit the pleasure of DFS play, while protecting against its possible downsides," Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby wrote in an introduction of the paper.
Crosby continued, "Until this legal uncertainty is resolved — which can only be done by the Legislature — the citizens of Massachusetts, DFS players, and DFS companies alike (including one of the leaders, DraftKings, which is located in Boston), will find their activities risky, and the DFS future utterly uncertain."
Wagner said the Gaming Commission's report "succinctly and accurately framed many of the issues" around DFS, but disagreed with the suggestion that the Legislature should act quickly. He said he senses the House and Senate will "eventually" take some form of action.
The approaches taken by states across the country to DFS have varied greatly. Notably, the attorney general of New York has called DFS sites illegal gambling operations and sought to shutter them in that state. In Nevada, the Gaming Control Board ruled DFS is gambling and invited DFS operators to apply for state gaming licenses. Efforts to regulate DFS in Florida have gained traction in legislative committees while the U.S. Attorney's office in Tampa investigates the industry.
Though the Massachusetts Legislature has not yet acted, Attorney General Maura Healey is set to promulgate final consumer protection regulations for the industry in the coming weeks, including a ban on players younger than 21 and a monthly deposit limit of $1,000 for DFS players.
On a legislative prohibition of DFS, Wagner said he does not "see that being a road upon which we would travel. I don't see that at all."
"I think, if the solution as to how to approach this was really simple, that we might already have done it," he said. "But I don't think there is an urgency to acting now and my concern would be that we might get it half right and the last thing that we want to do is to have to revisit it once we've made a determination about how we want to move forward."
Wagner offered the 2010 ban on texting while driving as an example of technology evolving quicker than policy. Last week, the Senate passed a bill to ban the use of all hand-held devices while driving, acknowledging that the 2010 law was not as effective at eliminating distractions behind the wheel as some had hoped and that hands-free technology is now more readily available to drivers.
"Technology has led us to this point and if we try to wrap our arms around how to regulate things that involve technological advances, we are probably going to be behind the curve even as we go, given the way in which technology evolves each and every day," Wagner said.
Though no legislative approaches have yet been proposed, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said last month that a group of senators have been studying the issue and how other states are grappling with the DFS world.
"They'll be coming out with some ideas and opinions further down the road," Rosenberg said. "So there's homework being done, more to be said."
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