When the Kansas City Chiefs kick off their season against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, many football fans across the country will pay particular attention to how well running back Jamaal Charles plays.
It won’t be because they care about the Chiefs. Instead, it’s because Charles was a top fantasy football pick. Mercenary fans will cheer for or against his running up yardage and scoring touchdowns, regardless of who wins the actual game.
And many of those fans will be breaking state gambling laws.
An estimated 33 million Americans play fantasy football. The game has many variations, but in its simplest form, it involves a group of 10 or 12 people each drafting a team of NFL players. The “owners” or “managers,” as they call themselves, set starting lineups, sign free agents and make trades. How well the players perform in their real-world games determines who wins weekly head-to-head matches. Often there’s a wager at the start of the season.
Players in Kansas, however, were shocked to learn recently that their wagers are illegal. The Kansas Gaming and Racing Commission posted a reminder on its website that betting on fantasy sports, like most betting, breaks state law, though ultimately it would be up to a judge or jury.
Contrary to some of the hyperventilating headlines that followed, fantasy football itself is not illegal in the state. Kansans are welcome to play; they just may not have money on the line.
For many fans, a friendly wager is the spice that keeps things interesting. The league champion is rewarded for months of careful football analysis and maneuvering that crushes all opponents. It differs little from a March Madness office pool or poker with the buddies on a Friday night.
Yet brackets and kitchen poker games are illegal under Kansas law. They’re probably illegal in Missouri, too, where enforcement is up to local prosecutors.
Not that there’s much enforcement anywhere, and that’s the crux of the issue. Kansas, Missouri and most states have anti-gambling laws, but police and prosecutors turn a blind eye to recreational wagering between friends. They worry about big-time gambling that might cut into state profits from taxes on riverboat casinos and the lottery.
If the ancient legal precedent of “no harm, no foul” prevails, then it’s time to revisit the law. Kansas State Rep. Brett Hildabrand called the current law “over-criminalization” and tweeted, “I would be interested in legislation to protect #FantasyFootball leagues in #Kansas.”
His fellow lawmakers should get on board. If a law is not enforced, then it doesn’t belong on the books. Let the fantasy football fans have their fun.