Why fantasy sport and gambling are distinct – and why it matters

The fantasy sport and gambling debate is one that has been raging since before even FISO came into being 20 years ago. From a UK perspective, it’s the sort of question that might be seen as academically interesting, but where the answer makes no real-world difference either way. In the US, however, it’s another matter.

There, different States have their own laws and regulations when it comes to gambling, and in many cases, these vary according to specific activities. New and old companies are constantly looking to capitalise on the emerging market in the US, not just in sports betting, but also when it comes to lotteries, scratch cards and casinos. Sites like Bet Boss (betboss.com) provide independent reviews, and the sites are attracting global audiences.

Any topic connected with odds is liable to be thrown into the same category as those above, so when providers like DraftKings became popular, it’s unsurprising that regulators were quick to weigh in. While most States saw no harm in fantasy sport, there were some exceptions. In Washington State, playing fantasy sport is a felony, while in Arizona, efforts to allow it have stalled due to complex gambling agreements in place with Native American tribes.

Similarities between fantasy sport and gambling

You might wonder what the fuss is about. After all, selecting a fantasy team on a Saturday morning is quite different to putting a tenner on Stoke City to beat Reading. Or is it? The point lawmakers get hung up on is that the basic skills you need to succeed in fantasy sports are largely similar to those you use for sports betting.

In both cases it is about understanding form, and also the dozens of other nuances that can influence a game in order to try to predict what will happen and who will be successful. These factors might include injuries, pitch conditions, even the weather forecast. The point is that if you exercise those skills well in either the fantasy leagues or the betting shop, you’ll likely come out a winner. However, saying there are similar factors between two activities is quite a leap from saying they are the same thing.

Differences between fantasy sport and gambling

In the vast majority of cases, fantasy sports participation is done on a “just for fun” basis. Sure, there might be an entry cost and even a prize for the winner, but these are generally negligible. This is more than “gut feel” – surveys have shown beyond doubt on both sides of the Atlantic that the main reason for playing fantasy sport is for the fun of competing with friends and to derive more enjoyment from the sporting leagues.

Ultimately, this is a view with which even US federal law agrees. When George W Bush signed off the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in 2006, it made explicit reference to fantasy sports, saying they should not be classified as a form of gambling. The wording is unequivocal, but still, the debate continues to rage on in certain corners of the USA.