Politics & Government

Are fantasy sports gambling? NC bill divides lawmakers and religious advocates.

The North Carolina House Commerce Committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would regulate fantasy sports

companies such as FanDuel or DraftKings, and officially declare that fantasy sports aren’t gambling.

The bill still has to pass several other committees before a final vote, though, so its success is not guaranteed. Similar efforts have failed in recent years, due largely to concerns by religious groups that oppose gambling.

This bill, HB 929, would create a North Carolina Gaming Commission to oversee fantasy sports as well as the state lottery, boxing and bingo. The commission also would be tasked with studying sports betting, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed in more states but has not yet been approved in North Carolina.

Fantasy sports allow fans to bet on which athletes they think will do well. Contests can last for an entire sports season or occur as frequently as daily.

John Rustin, president of the N.C. Family Policy Council religious group, spoke against the bill at Wednesday’s committee. He said the state shouldn’t officially recognize fantasy sports since he considers those ventures to be gambling and thus shouldn’t be legal in the first place.

“Despite what this bill attempts to say, daily fantasy sports is gambling,” Rustin said. “... The elements of chance predominate over the elements of skill and that’s exactly how gambling is defined.”

But Republican Rep. Harry Warren of Rowan County, one of the bill’s sponsors, said there’s no stopping people from playing fantasy football or other sports. He thinks the industry ought to at least be held accountable to protect players from being exploited.

“Fantasy sports has been going on in NC for a long time and it will continue going on with or without this bill,” Warren said. “The question is: Do you want it regulated.”

If the commission is approved, it would have nine members. The governor would appoint five and the legislature would appoint four.

Democratic Rep. Deb Butler of Wilmington said she had some initial concerns but is tentatively willing to support this bill, “recognizing that the activity is going on already, and recognizing the enormous revenue stream.”

She said other states tax revenue from fantasy sports anywhere from 6 percent to 15 percent, and North Carolina could use the extra money — especially to fund services aimed at helping people with gambling addictions.

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Will Doran reports on North Carolina politics, with a focus on state employees and agencies. In 2016 he started The News & Observer’s fact-checking partnership, PolitiFact NC, and before that he reported on local governments around the Triangle. Contact him at wdoran@newsobserver.com or (919) 836-2858.