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I’m in a fantasy football league here at school with friends, and it’s a great deal of fun. However, lately I’ve been wondering if what we’re doing is legal. We each put down some money at the draft every year, and then we use the pot to award prize money to the team owner who earns the best regular-season record, and the one who wins the championship.

 

I’m not super concerned or anything, because I know we’re not the only ones doing this. However, I am curious about whether it’s legal, and if there’s actually a chance we could get in trouble. Experts, what’s the deal?

Fantasy football is a popular pastime in the United States. About 75 million people play each year. Those fantasy football fans are not breaking the law just by playing fantasy football. However, there’s no doubt that many of these fantasy football team owners are betting cash on the outcome of their leagues, and that could be more problematic.

Is gambling on fantasy football illegal? There is no quick or easy answer, because gambling laws in the United States is often complex. Part of the reason for this is the United States’ federal system of government. The federal government is empowered to pass laws relevant to the areas of its control, as laid out in the constitution. There are federal laws on the books that outlaw certain types of gambling. However, not all types. States, too, can pass laws governing the ways that gambling money can change hands within their borders. In some cases, these laws are stricter than the federal ones.

There are other complications, too, explains the staff at one Caldwell, New Jersey law firm. They specialize in criminal law, among other areas. The interpretation of laws is a factor. Until case law settles the issue, disagreements about whether a law should apply to fantasy football gambling may arise. Then, there is the matter of enforcement. Something may be illegal, in fact, but legal, in practice, if authorities choose not to use their resources to enforce the law.

Let’s take a look at how all of this shakes out in regard to fantasy football.

Under federal law, your fantasy football league is arguably legal. Federal gambling laws carve out exceptions for games that meet certain criteria. The outcome of the game can’t be determined by the final scores of real-life game, and the game must involve skill and knowledge from the participants. However, federal law does say that the prize value cannot be determined by the number of participants or the amount that they pay in, and that puts any pool on shakier ground.

Then there is state law, which can vary widely. Some states have laws no stricter than the federal ones. Others apply more rigid standards, outlaw gambling games that involve any amount of chance at all.

It’s hard to know how people might interpret some of these laws, because enforcement of such laws against small private fantasy football pools is rather lax. Still, that doesn’t mean you should gamble. Perhaps you and your friends should replace the cash prize with a fantasy football trophy. Things like fantasy football trophies and your fantasy football draft board serve as tangible mementos that some people find more valuable in the long run than a few bucks. You’re not in college forever, so rather than swap cash, why not commemorate each season with a keepsake? If you do that, you won’t have to worry about gambling laws at all.

“I may win, and I may lose, but I will never be defeated.” - Emmitt Smith

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