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Is Fantasy Football Illegal Gambling in Pennsylvania?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | October 17, 2014

No. 1,112

Image: trendinbuffalo.com

Image: trendinbuffalo.com

Fantasy football has been around for a while.  Rules vary.  In the classic format, the team owners meet at the beginning of the pro football season to draft teams of offensive players expected to do a lot of scoring. These teams usually continue to play for the entire season, with the winner taking the pool at the end. However, commercial variations have developed that enable individuals to play by the day or the week, without the need to assemble an entire  league. And even the cable sports networks, such as ESPN, have joined in.

The question is, does this constitute illegal gambling?  In Pennsylvania, probably not.

In Pennsylvania, as in most (but not all) States, the test whether such a game is illegal gambling is whether it is predominantly one of chance or skill. The last time a Pennsylvania appellate court addressed the issue of chance v. skill was in a 2010 Superior Court decision, Commonwealth v. Dent, 992 A.2d 190. Although Poker, in its various forms, involves substantial skill, the Superior Court held that chance predominates because the cards dealt to each player have the primary role in determining the outcome of the hand.

Whether Fantasy Football is predominately a skill game has never been directly addressed by Pennsylvania appellate courts. However, the prevailing view is that picking a Fantasy Football team is a game of skill. Organizations that permit you to play fantasy football over the internet, have determined that the game is legal in our Commonwealth. Mark Edelman, who is something of an expert, explains the reasoning in an article in Forbes. On its website, FanDuel, a popular internet fantasy site explains how it determines which states are safe to offer the game.

However, if the games are changed to incorporate more chance elements, such as payouts that are based on total scores of actual games in the NFL prosecutors may decide to take another look.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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