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posted: 9/6/2016 5:34 AM

Is daily fantasy sports betting legal? Fight goes on

The debate continues as NFL season begins this week

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  • With the NFL season kicking off Thursday, the question of whether Illinois residents can legally play daily fantasy sports through sites like FanDuel and DraftKings remains unsettled.

    With the NFL season kicking off Thursday, the question of whether Illinois residents can legally play daily fantasy sports through sites like FanDuel and DraftKings remains unsettled.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer, January 2016

 
 

The NFL season starts Thursday, but the wrangling over whether it's legal in Illinois to play increasingly popular daily fantasy sports is far from over.

The two industry titans, DraftKings and FanDuel, have spent months and money lobbying lawmakers to ensure their businesses are legal and regulated. They remain in court with the state, too.

So is it legal for football fans to play daily fantasy sports in Illinois?

Attorney General Lisa Madigan's staffers point to her opinion issued last year saying the games are gambling, and gambling that's not specifically recognized by the state is illegal.

"Absent legislation specifically exempting daily fantasy sports contests from the gambling provisions, it is my opinion that daily fantasy sports contests constitute illegal gambling under Illinois law," Madigan wrote.

But the legal opinion is directed more toward the websites than the players, and it's considered unlikely county prosecutors will go after daily fantasy players.

The legislation Madigan referred to stalled in the spring as lawmakers debated how to regulate the relatively new industry, and as other gambling interests such as Rivers Casino in Des Plaines took a heavy interest.

Because the proposal remains in limbo, Illinois doesn't have a clear way to regulate daily fantasy sports.

"They're operating in a legal vacuum," said state Rep. Mike Zalewski, a Riverside Democrat and lead negotiator on the issue. He said Madigan's opinion is advisory.

The debate over how to proceed could pick up again after the Nov. 8 election. But, like in the spring, lawmakers will be confronted with a pressing budget deadline at the end of a year at a time when Democrats and Republicans have spent more than a year deadlocked over a spending plan.

Zalewski says fantasy sports taxes and the money the state could get should be part of the debate.

In the meantime, Jay Correia says the industry could feel a pinch. He runs West Dundee-based DreamCo Design, which does developing for some of the fantasy sports industry's smaller players. Uncertainty can be bad for business.

"People are going to watch what's going to happen legally," Correia said.

FanDuel and DraftKings both nod toward the debate on their websites.

On a map of the U.S., FanDuel labels Illinois as "FanDuel allows paid contests."

DraftKings acknowledges some legal gray area, calling itself a "pioneering American company operating in an innovative space where discussions of appropriate legal regulations are ongoing."

"As any changes in the law take place or regulations are implemented, DraftKings will take steps to ensure its continued compliance, and changes to this site may take place to reflect any such new laws or regulations," the site reads.

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