Conservative lawmaker Scott Plakon: Fantasy sports legal “under current law”

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One of the Legislature’s most stalwart opponents to gambling and its expansion in the Sunshine State nonetheless voted for a House bill that would explicitly legalize fantasy sports play in Florida.

State Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, sits on the House Business and Professions Subcommittee that OK’d the bill (HB 707) by a 10-3 vote earlier this week.

Does that mean Plakon, who led the drive to shut down Internet gambling cafes in 2013, thinks online fantasy sports is not gambling? He wouldn’t say.

“I would just say they’re legal under current Florida law and that I don’t play them,” Plakon said in a phone interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “That’s it.”

That’s an opinion that not all in Tallahassee share.

Marc Dunbar, lobbyist for The Stronach Group, which runs South Florida’s Gulfstream Park, says fantasy sports are “a gambling industry.” He has likened the DraftKings and FanDuel websites to a pari-mutuel operation, like horse and dog racing.

Contestants are “playing for each other’s money,” with the sites taking a cut, he told the committee this week.

Plakon, however, offered an amendment to the bill, carried by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, that requires those who offer fantasy sports play to Floridians to “offer training to employees on responsible play.”

The language also requires them to “work with a compulsive or addictive behavior prevention program to recognize problem situations, to implement responsible play and practices, and to implement underage player protections.”

And it would fund such programs with 7.5 percent of the money paid in registration fees, $500,000 for each operator’s initial registration with the state and $100,000 per renewal under the current bill.

Plakon’s amendment was adopted.

“The best thing I thought I could do was to offer my amendment to at least add a bit of funding to these programs,” he said.

Plakon finally was asked whether he considered filing a bill that would ban fantasy sports outright. His answer reminded a reporter of a Bob Dylan lyric: “You don’t need a weatherman/To know which way the wind blows.”

“That would be futile,” he said.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.