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Fantasy football’s troubles hit Pinellas County

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Pinellas County is joining the list of locations where Fantasy Football is being accused of being a gambling activity. The suit filed Monday fingers the two biggest Fantasy Football websites, DraftKings and Fan Duel.

The suit, brought by Nelson C. Steiner, argues the websites entice users by advertising potential monetary winnings. Some estimates show such winnings can reach up to $2 million, but in most cases any payouts are a tiny fraction of that.

For example, USA today points to a FanDuel ad showing a man who had won just $349 – a much more common payout – followed by another who had won more than $2.1 million.

The difference is, those who win the most often make a near full-time job out of playing. Bloomberg Businessweek reported on a player who put in between eight and 15 hours a week putting in some 200 entries. It’s so intensive that player questioned whether he’d have to report the hobby as actual work.

But that supports how FanDuel and DraftKings are defending mounting scrutiny over the websites’ practices. Under the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, websites are forbidden from offering chance-based games. But ones that require skill are fair game.

That’s what the two Fantasy Football providers say they provide.

But Steiner’s lawsuit counters that claim and adds the services are depriving the state of revenue that would be required if they were a legal gambling operation.

Steiner’s suit asks that the two websites be stopped from taking additional bets in Florida and to turn over proceeds of revenue generated.

And this isn’t the first time the two Fantasy Football giants have had a problem. In October they were sued by a Washington Redskins player, Pierre Garcon, who argued FanDuel was illegally using his name, likeness and reputation for its own profit.

A class action lawsuit was also filed against both Fantasy Football sites, but was later dropped.

The sites were forced out of business in Nevada unless they filed appropriate documents to become lawful gambling operations. New York is also scrutinizing the websites.

And locally, the Tampa Bay Times reports that a grand jury in Tampa has been hearing testimony about Fantasy Football leagues.

It’s unclear whether the most recent lawsuit will be successful, but it is a serious enough issue to be taken up in the legislature. State Senator Joe Negron and Representative Matt Gaetz have filed bills in their respective chambers that would regulate the Fantasy Football industry.

It would require $100,000 annual fee to operate in the Sunshine State in addition to a $500,000 fee. If approved, their bill would, at least in Florida, declare the two Fantasy Football providers are indeed offering a game of skill and not one associated with gambling.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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