Is Fantasy Football Legal in Hawaii?
The NFL football season is right around the corner, and you know what that means – time for fantasy football! If you’re like me (and millions of other Americans), you have at least one fantasy football league. The question for this post is, what is the legality of fantasy football? Is it considered gambling?
I’ll start by saying there’s two types of fantasy football. First, there’s the more traditional type. You and a group of friends get together, order some pizzas, drink some beer, and draft some teams. You keep your team for the season. Maybe you trade. Maybe you pick a hot free agent off the waiver wire. Maybe you drop a player when your RB1 inevitably gets injured (I’m looking at you, Jamaal Charles). But essentially, you’re stuck with your team for the duration of the season.
The other type is the daily fantasy football that became popular in 2015. We’re talking about things like DraftKings and FanDuel. Players make daily line ups and compete head to head or in tournaments for potentially big cash prizes.
I’ll address daily fantasy football first. The Hawaii Attorney General’s office came out with an opinion on the matter in the beginning of 2016, found here. Essentially, they believe that due to the scope, stakes, frequency, and the fact that the site takes a cut of your winnings, daily fantasy falls out of the realm of “social gambling” and into the realm of illegal gambling. In short, it’s illegal in Hawaii, so play at your own risk.
But what about the more traditional type of fantasy football? Is that illegal too? The Attorney General opinion doesn’t explicitly say it is, but it suggests that it can fall under “social gambling” which is legal. So what is social gambling?
First, it’s worthwhile to look at what “gambling” means. HRS § 712-1220 defines gambling basically as a person risking something of value (money) upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not in the person’s control or influence (sporting events), upon an agreement that the person will receive something of value (money) in the event of a certain outcome (winning your league). HRS § 712-1223 criminalizes gambling and makes it a misdemeanor.
Under those terms, traditional fantasy football is gambling. However, the “social gambling” exception can make your league perfectly legal.
There are six things you need to qualify for “social gambling.”
1) Everyone needs to be on equal terms with each other.
Equal terms probably just means fair dealing. In other words, you come up with rules that apply to everyone, and everyone gets an equal chance according to the rules. Obviously people will have different draft positions, but that doesn’t render the terms unequal, so long as everyone is in agreement with how the draft will be structured.
2) You can’t win anything more than what is wagered.
If you have a commissioner, that person cannot get paid for being the commissioner. They play like everyone else, they just happen to have extra responsibilities that they’ve graciously volunteered to perform.
3) No one can act as a house.
Similar to 2), no one can take a cut of the pot for hosting the event or doing anything else. The pot is the pot, and the whole thing gets paid out based on performance.
4) It can’t be conducted or played in a public area.
This one is tricky. The list of prohibited places is comprehensive, and includes bars and restaurants. Since fantasy sports are an ongoing process, it’s hard to say where it’s being “conducted.” Usually the only tangible location is the draft location. That said, it’s probably safer to have your draft at someone’s house than at a bar.
5) No one is under 18.
6) There’s no bookmaking.
There’s no bookmaking in fantasy sports, as traditionally played.
So there you have it. Fantasy football is a form of gambling, but you can easily do things to make sure it falls under “social gambling” and keep it legal. May the fantasy gods smile upon you, may the injuries stay away, and happy drafting!