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Opinion: Give fantasy sports a clear playing field

In this Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, photo, Len Don Diego, marketing manager for content at DraftKings, a daily fantasy sports company, works at his station at the company's offices in Boston. The daily fantasy sports industry is eyeing a breakout season as NFL games begin. And its two dominant companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, are touting lucrative opening week prizes to try to draw more customers as more competitors pop up. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Amid all the recent clamor over fantasy sports, residents of Illinois may be forgiven for wondering about the legal status of these games. That’s a shame, because more than two million people in this state participate in fantasy sports contests, and they deserve clarity — and the right to play.

The good news is that new legislation in Illinois would remove any questions clouding fantasy sports and would add new consumer protections.

OPINION

A bill introduced by state Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, would confirm that playing daily fantasy sports is not gambling under Illinois law. To ensure a level playing field, the bill would bar employees of fantasy sports companies, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, from competing in any contest offered by any fantasy operators. It would also prevent the sharing of non-public information that could affect the outcome of fantasy games.

To further protect consumers, the bill would require fantasy sports companies to verify that players are at least 18 years old and would help prevent fantasy participants from overplaying. Finally, to help ensure the financial integrity of the fantasy sports companies, the bill would require them to segregate player funds from operational funds and maintain cash reserves or other backup funds in excess of current liabilities.

These measures represent sensible oversight of an innovative industry providing a product that over 50 million people in the United States have embraced with gusto. And that is something that has been lost in all the shouting about daily fantasy – as legions of people here enjoy it today. Fantasy sports are flat-out fun. A survey from Eilers Research shows that the No. 1 reason people play fantasy sports is for the entertainment value – not to make money. Anyone who knows people who play daily fantasy sports knows that none of these players are anxious for the government to step in and ban their favorite pastime.

People also play fantasy sports for the social experience, because it enriches their collective sports and entertainment experience. Policymakers need to keep this community-building social phenomenon top of mind when they consider restricting how citizens spend their leisure time and entertainment budgets.

Nor should we move to quash a vibrant industry that is in its infancy. Daily fantasy sports are projected to see $3.7 billion in entry fees in 2015, according to Eilers Research. That number is expected to reach $17.7 billion in 2020. And it’s not just a cluster of lucky tech entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who are benefiting — more than a dozen fantasy sports related companies are based here in Illinois. These companies — along with dozens of national fantasy contest providers who have been offering games in the state for more than twenty years—would have the legal clarity they need to continue to operate in the state.

Additionally, fantasy sports are driving more viewers than ever before to watch major sporting events on live television. Increased viewership boosts advertising, marketing and merchandising, and contributes to other related sectors of the economy. Professional sports leagues, media and related businesses benefit from the marked increase in sports viewership and engagement due to fans’ participation in fantasy sports leagues.

Other states will be watching closely as policymakers here grapple with whether and how to regulate fantasy sports. Springfield must balance any action with the legitimate economic benefits that these businesses bring and with consumers’ best interests.

With this new legislation, Illinois has brought some Midwestern common sense to an overheated national debate.

Peter Schoenke is chairman of the Chicago-based Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

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