The fantasy sports industry is filling out its own fantasy roster of politicians in hopes of winning key legislation to assure their lucrative daily fantasy sports games are legal in Florida.
Since August, fantasy sports companies have written 49 checks totaling $220,000 to draft some of the biggest players in the Florida Legislature to assist them. Political committees run by current and future Florida House Speakers, Republicans and Democrats, and budget chairmen in both the House and the Senate are among the recipients.
The donation surge comes at a time that the fantasy sports industry is under increasing scrutiny nationwide. Nevada banned the games without a gaming license in late 2015, and the New York State Attorney General has tried to shut industry giants like DraftKings and FanDuel, though both are fighting the attempts in court.
In Florida, there is no active attempt to shutdown the games as forms of gambling, but there are enough questions about the state’s regulations that some daily fantasy operators, notably Yahoo, bar Floridians from playing the games. State Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has been piloting a bill through the House that would clarify the state’s law, and declare fantasy sports games with cash winnings - including daily fantasy sports - legal in Florida. Gaetz received $10,000 in donations from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. A similar bill has been sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, but that bill has not been heard in any committees yet.
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Daily fantasy sports games are different from the season long games that millions of Floridians play. Companies like DraftKings and FanDuel advertise daily and weekly fantasy sports leagues where participants pay an entry fee to draft football or baseball players for hypothetical sports teams. The real game statistics from those players are compared to other entrants for a chance to win prizes. In ads, both companies say they have billions of dollars in prize money to give out.
Some key Florida legislators have already questioned whether what daily fantasy sports companies are offering is a form of gambling that should be regulated like other gaming options, like horse racing and dog tracks.
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association, which DraftKings and FanDuel are members, has given out $167,500 to Florida political leaders and their parties so far to help their cause. House Appropriations chairman Richard Corcoran, a Pasco County Republican who is in line to be the Speaker of the House next year, leads the way with $30,000 to a political committee he runs called The Florida Roundtable. The Florida Democratic Party received $25,000 and $15,000 went to the Republican Party of Florida. Current House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate Appropriations chairman Tom Lee are among others who have received at least $10,000 from the group for political committees they run.
FanDuel has handed 14 checks worth $26,000 since Nov. 18. The Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign received $12,500. In December, New York-based FanDuel gave out $2,500 each to political committees run by Reps. Jose Oliva, R-Hialeah, and Sens Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and Rene Garcia, R-Miami.
DraftKings, a Boston-based company, has handed out $26,500 since Nov. 18. That includes $12,500 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and $2,500 checks to Oliva’s and Benacquisto’s committees.
Despite the spending spree, that odds are getting longer that Gaetz’s legislation will pass this year. Key state senators have been hesitant to pass a stand alone bill on fantasy sports without dealing with other activities in Florida that are gambling. Parimutuel racing companies and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which operates casinos in the state, have both declared fantasy sports as forms of gambling that affect the state’s gaming environment.