Explosion of online fantasy sports creates questions of legality

Posted at 5:59 PM, Sep 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-14 20:39:55-04

Right now there is an explosion of online fantasy sports betting.

But with strict gambling laws in the state, how are online fantasy teams allowing people to place bets?

A NewsChannel 3 investigation looked into the issue.

Fantasy football season is underway and Judson Vife is part of the growing number of people who admit they spend a lot of time and money betting on fantasy teams.

“It's very addicting because you can start out small with the money, eventually go bigger and bigger and bigger. You end up wanting more money weekly. It's awesome. I love it,” said Vife.

Virginia has strict gambling laws. There is the lottery and charitable gaming but for the most part, gambling is not allowed.

The American Gaming Association (AGA) predicts Americans will wager $95 billion on NFL and college football games this year. They said the vast majority of the bets placed will be illegal.

But groups like FanDuel and DraftKings, the businesses running a few of these online fantasy sports, say they don’t consider what they do as gambling.

They’re pumping a lot of money into advertising flooding the television and radio with ads.

DraftKings explains on their website, "Federal Law and 45 of the 50 US States allow skill-based gaming. Daily fantasy sports is a skill game and is not considered gambling."

Critics don’t buy it.

Recovering gambling addict Bob Cabaniss spent 40 years betting thousands upon thousands of dollars on sports.

“If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck. It’s a duck. This walks and talks like a duck. This is gambling,” said Cabaniss.

He believes the increase in people playing fantasy sports online will increase the number of people with gambling addictions.

He said having an addiction is awful and can destroy families. He said an addiction can lead "to severe depression. It leads to severe unhappiness.”

Today, he runs the Williamsville Wellness Center, the only licensed treatment facility for gambling addiction in the state. He predicts future problems and some gamblers would agree.

Bud Vidal said, “I may have a gambling problem. I don’t know.”

A FanDuel representative tells NewsChannel 3 they don’t consider what they are doing to be gambling, so they are not concerned that more people will have gambling addictions.

AGA leaders said fantasy sports and the illegal gambling industry has exploded and now they are trying to figure out why and what – if anything -- they can do about it.

AGA CEO Geoff Freeman sent out a statement in part that read: “Illegal sports betting is reaching new heights of popularity in America. It’s clear that a federal ban on traditional sports betting outside of Nevada is failing.”

Right now, the AGA has a task force of federal, state and local law enforcement officials examining the laws to try and determine if there is any illegal activity going on.

So for now, people will continue to spend time placing bets online and continue to spend money.

“Because I want to win money, that’s how it usually works,” said Vife.

“It’s almost like owning your own team,” said Earl Turner.

“It almost makes you feel like you’re a real GM," said Vidal.