Guest Column: The Madness of Not Passing Fantasy Contests Act

Former GeorgiaPol contributor and nationally-known bigwig Jason Pye has penned an op-ed in support of HB 118, a piece of legislation sponsored by Representative Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) to responsibly preserve online fantasy sports games in Georgia that is currently held up by the Senate in the waning days of the legislative session. Jason’s op-ed follows.

March Madness is upon us, which means college basketball fans everywhere are watching their brackets get busted by an outpouring of unexpected upsets and comeback victories. Who else saw Virginia losing to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County? More than a few people lit their brackets on fire after that game.

Watching the games is always fun, but there’s something extra thrilling about testing your knowledge of the sport with a little friendly competition.

No wonder fantasy sports are rapidly becoming our new national pastime. Over 53 million Americans participate in some form of fantasy sports, with over 1.7 million people competing in Georgia alone. Our country may be divided about a lot of things, but we can all agree on this: people love their fantasy leagues.

Fantasy sports competition is not a form of gambling, it’s a game of skill. Each online fantasy league is an opportunity to compete against friends -and other fans- to prove who knows the most about sports. Each participant acts as a general manager and compiles his or her own roster.

Just as Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff carefully and thoughtfully selected the players on the 2016 NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, fantasy sports allow the competitor to create their own hand-picked lineup of athletes. Players receive points based on the positive statistical achievements of their selected athletes, and the player with the most points wins.

Unfortunately, some state legislators do not recognize the tremendous amount of preparation and analysis required to put together a winning team. They equate fantasy sports with simple games of chance, like rolling a pair of dice.

This assumption could not be more off-base. Fantasy sports are more like golf or fishing. Participants take into consideration a variety of metrics and conditions to craft a strategy rooted in skill level and experience. Whether the competition is daily or seasonal, all skill studies and expert reports agree that fantasy sports competition is more like a chess match than a slot machine.

State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown) recognizes the difference, which is why he introduced HB 118, legislation that responsibly preserves online fantasy sports by requiring companies to apply for licensing with the state. Companies would also pay a reasonable registration fee and a 6 percent net revenue tax.

The “Fantasy Contests Act” requires players to be at least 18 years of age, educates participants on responsible play, and restricts employees and athletes from potential conflicts of interest. It also protects beginners by identifying the highly experienced players and establishing clear “beginner” and “intermediate” contests.

Nineteen states have passed similar legislation over the last three years, including our neighbor, Tennessee. Vice President Pence also signed a similar fantasy sports bill as then-Governor of Indiana. This regulatory regime has proven workable and will be a success here in the Peach State.

HB 118 has already passed the House, but it’s currently held up in the Senate. Georgians must contact Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and their state senators to make their voices heard on this issue.

Everyone from the notoriously gambling-averse NFL and MLB, to the analysts and experts at MIT and the University of Chicago, agree the outcomes of fantasy online competition are rooted in skill. Even federal law distinguishes between online gambling and fantasy sports competition.

March Madness will continue to dominate the sports page headlines for the next few weeks, but the real madness would be letting this legislation die in the Senate.

Jason Pye is the vice president of legislative affairs for FreedomWorks. He is a resident of Metro Atlanta.

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