In the first step towards passing legislation that would legalize online poker like the state of Nevada, or a full cadre of online wagering like Delaware, Maryland on October 1 legalized online fantasy sports wagering. Maryland’s about face on the issue came about as a way to clear the air on what was currently a very uncertain and confusing state of affairs regarding popular fantasy sports played online for money in The Old Line State. Federal legislation seems to allow for online fantasy sports betting, but in the past Maryland has ruled the practice as illegal, while turning a blind eye on participants.
The Washington Post reported recently that literally thousands of Maryland residents spend several millions of dollars in daily or weekly fantasy sports leagues, using Internet-based software. The “fantasy” part of the contest lies in the fact that regular Joe’s like you and I can fantasize that we own our own professional sports team, drafting and trading players from different teams in a popular professional sports league like the National Football League or Major League Baseball to assemble our “fantasy team.” Often played with coworkers and friends, generally a weekly or yearly financial dues is paid, with money awarded to weekly or yearly winners.
In 2006 the US government, which had up to that point banned all online gambling, allowed this exception for fantasy sports and those leagues which are run online. Most other states have recognized this federal legislation, but Maryland stubbornly opposed it, while not taking active measures against its residents who play fantasy sports online. However, this open endorsement of online wagering at some level certainly opens the door in many gambling proponents’ eyes for some type of passage of upgraded online wagering in Maryland, especially considering the United States Department of Justice ruling late last year.
The Maryland ruling actually occurred in the State General Assembly earlier this year, and took effect on October 1. The official legislation dictates that Marylanders have the right to win prizes which could include cash in fantasy football leagues run online. Fantasy sports betting is multibillion dollar industry globally, and has enjoyed lock and step growth with the use and worldwide reach of the Internet. One of the most popular online fantasy football league websites is Fanduel, who claims that in 2010 they were paying out roughly $3 million per month to fantasy sports bettors. Most of the top fantasy sports sites have now removed Maryland from their “no action allowed here” lists, leaving only Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Alaska as states that have not recognized the federal ruling.
Since the DOJ reversed their age-old stance on online wagering back on December 23 of last year, Nevada and Delaware have passed legislation legalizing online poker and online gambling respectively. States like Ohio, Illinois, California and others are actively arguing the relevancy or need for legalized online gambling in those states. And with continuing economic problems in many of the United States, regulating online wagering would seem to be a twofold solution. It would fill state coffers with much-needed finances, and allow for a much more across-the-board, regulated and safe experience for US residents who are already gambling online to the tune of billions of dollars a year.