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Fantasy sports bill clears House committee

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A House bill that would explicitly legalize fantasy sports play in Florida cleared its first committee on Tuesday.

The House Business and Professions Subcommittee OK’d the bill (HB 707) by a 10-3 vote.

Florida is among many states struggling with whether to regulate fantasy sports, and if so, how. Current Florida legislation would require fantasy operators to register with the state and pay licensing fees, as well as verify that players aren’t minors.

It’s a multibillion-dollar business, attracting nearly 57 million people a year in North America alone. Fantasy websites also are attracting big bucks from venture capitalists and other investors, such as the professional sports leagues.

Nevada has banned daily fantasy games as other states, including New York, are considering its legality. The U.S. Justice Department also is investigating.

“Fantasy games are considered to be illegal in Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana and Washington (and) lawmakers in Indiana, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have introduced legislation to allow casinos or lotteries to offer daily fantasy games,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure is opposed by The Stronach Group, which runs South Florida’s Gulfstream Park and “operates the largest interstate (horse-racing) gambling operation in the country,” according to lobbyist Marc Dunbar.

Make no mistake: Fantasy sports games are “a gambling industry,” he told lawmakers, adding that the bill from state Rep. Matt Gaetz had no regulatory teeth.

He also said fantasy sports, such as that on the DraftKings and FanDuel websites, is essentially a pari-mutuel operation, like horse and dog racing: “We’re playing for each other’s money,” with the sites taking a cut.

Fantasy players “draft teams that compete against each other based on the performance of real-world athletes,” as State Legislatures magazine recently explained.

Several members of the panel agreed to vote for the bill if Gaetz promised to toughen it up with clearer provisions on revoking licenses and by requiring background checks of site operators.

The bill next goes to the Regulatory Affairs Committee; a companion bill has not yet gotten a hearing in the Senate.

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

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