As training camps across the NFL come to a close and Week 1 just around the corner, we think about all that is great with the sport of football. The anticipation for a Sunday morning kickoff, the feeling that this could be the year, the marriage of Ochocinco and Ochouno, and of course, another Brett Favre retirement, are all things that make the NFL the spectacle that it is today. This season appears to be one of the most anticipated in history because of the potential lockout that looms in 2011, as this could be the beginning of the end for the NFL as we know it. With all this in mind, the potential lockout would have a major influence on a different aspect of the game that would also significantly alter the scope of football: I’m talking about fantasy football.
Fantasy sports have become more than just the nerdy cult phenomenon that it originally appeared to be when it was run by advertising agencies through regional newspapers in the late 1980s. Fantasy sports have now become an online game of luck, skill, addiction, and witty team names. It is the culprit of an estimated $3-4 billion economic impact, as well as the number one contributor to decreases in work productivity from September to January.
There are a few things everyone should know about fantasy football: Never draft a kicker before the final round, anyone on the Jaguars with a hyphen in their name is usually a good bet (Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Sims-Walker), and if you need a WR, contact Matt Millen as he seems to be loaded with them year after year. All kidding aside, this lucrative business has become a cash cow, as an ever-growing list of websites are increasing their funding towards fantasy sports – the growth and opportunity are looking more promising than ever. While the rules of the game and the guidelines most leagues follow are fairly similar from league to league, the discussion of the legality of it all is not quite so uniform. It would be foolish to say that money and gambling aren’t predominant aspects of fantasy sports. While the pride of winning and the feeling of true fantasy immortality are all well and good, a cash incentive is often the best way to reward a winning season. There is no way for anti-gambling agencies to regulate whether or not the tens of millions of fantasy owners are playing the game for money (unless they use pay to play online leagues), but what the government can do is rule whether or not the activity as a whole is actually legal, and they have. The issue boils down to whether or not there is skill involved in fantasy football.
About 4 years ago, there was an interesting lawsuit involving the legality (or possible illegality) of fantasy sports. On June 20, 2006, Charles E. Humphrey, Jr. filed a complaint in the federal district court in the state of New Jersey against Viacom, Inc. (owner of the three main providers of online fantasy leagues), alleging that pay-to-play leagues are illegal Internet gambling. In most states, “the test of the character of the game is not whether it contains an element of chance or an element of skill, but which is the dominating element that determines the result of the game.” According to previous rulings, games that fall under the gambling statutes are those classified as games of chance rather than games of skill. What makes fantasy sports such an interesting topic of discussion with regards to that matter is that there is no consensus opinion. The main question still remains the same: Does fantasy football require any skill, or is it merely all luck? I guess it depends who you ask, because as we all know when we win, it was skill, preparation, and knowledge that brought us the trophy. Yet when we lose, it was most likely because someone else got lucky.
In the end, the court ruled that “fantasy sports involve elements of both skill and chance, but the skill elements are dominant… as through research, intelligence, and skill, the participants can control the outcome of the contests.” There you have it: You can now officially brag and say with pride that you won a fantasy football league because you tactfully put together a team that gave you the best chance to win. Just don’t go rubbing your winnings in anyone’s face.
Copy of case: Humphrey v. Viacom, Inc.