Alabama Lays Fantasy Sports to Rest

A tablet with a fantasy football sign

Fantasy sports fans in Alabama have again been denied the right to enjoy their favorite pastime, after a bill to exempt fantasy sports from prohibition under the state’s anti-gambling laws fell at the first hurdle.

According to Alabama Political Reporter, the bill didn’t even merit the usual formality vote—let alone a debate on the Senate floor. It was quietly put out of its misery during a vote on the Budget Isolation Resolution.

Alabama criminalized fantasy sports contests in 2016. As in a number of other states, the Attorney General’s Office categorized the activity as gambling, thus forcing operators like FanDuel and DraftKings to withdraw their services for fear of prosecution.

Senator saw it coming

State Senator Paul Sanford, the bill’s sponsor, held out little hope for its success in such a conservative state. He first predicted the bill’s demise in a committee meeting two weeks earlier, only to see it pass unanimously. Sanford decided to file the bill as a matter of principle, believing that fantasy sports should not be illegal.

A player himself, Sanford told the press that fantasy sports were about bringing people closer together rather than simply winning money. Under Sanford’s proposed legislation, it would have been legal to play fantasy sports in Alabama. Major operators, like FanDuel and DraftKings, would pay an $85,000 registration fee to become licensed operators in the state, while newer, smaller companies would pay a much lower fee of $5,000.

If passed, the bill would have brought tighter regulation to the fantasy sports operators and provided much-needed consumer protection. The minimum age for participating would have been nineteen. 

Same old, same old

This is not the first time a daily fantasy sports (DFS) bill has failed to gain ground in Alabama. Last year, a previous attempt by Sanford fell by the wayside in the last days of the legislative session. With Senator Sanford soon to retire, future attempts on Alabama’s DFS legislation look unlikely.

Void of any lottery, commercial casinos, or poker rooms, Alabama is one of the most conservative when it comes to gambling. The state rarely considers laws to legalize the activity, so it is hardly surprising that Sanford’s DFS bill was dead in the water.

The debate has been raging for the past few years—some lawmakers argue that DFS is a game of skill while others liken it to little more than the toss of a coin. Fantasy sports have been legally challenged in several states. Because the contests are short, detractors claim they should be classed as gambling. While admitting that skill and judgment may play a role in season-long contests, they insist that one-day events are indeed betting, whether the players realize it or not.

The state of Louisiana is having this DFS debate right now. Earlier in the month, Representative Kirk Talbot introduced a measure that would exempt daily fantasy sports contests from gambling prohibition legislation. Under the proposal, a statewide referendum would be held on October 12, 2019 to decide whether or not DFS contests should be legalized.

Louisiana’s DFS legislation is still on the table. Unfortunately for Alabama’s fantasy sports fans, the contests will not be legalized anytime soon. It will be interesting to see whether other lawmakers will take Senator Sanford’s place as a champion of fantasy sports in the conservative state, or whether the activity will go the way of so many other gaming options in the past.