Fmr. Delegate John Olszewski, Jr.: Protect Fantasy Sports in Maryland

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In 2012, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation clarifying that participating in fantasy sports online was not gambling. I sponsored that legislation because I believe that fantasy sports are games that require more skill than those categorized as commercial gaming.

At the time, Maryland was one of only a handful of states where residents were prohibited from winning any type of prize in fantasy contests. Our legislation mirrored language adopted by Congress in 2006 that specifically exempted fantasy sports from a national online gambling ban on the grounds that they require a higher level of skill, rather than relying entirely on the random outcome of pulling a slot lever or throwing a pair of dice.

Today, there are more than 900,000 fantasy players in our state alone – representing nearly 1 out of every 5 adults in Maryland. I too – a devoted Ravens and Orioles fan – occasionally participate.

To be sure, there have been many changes and innovations in fantasy sports since they first became popular more than 30 years ago. There are also now a myriad of companies that offer a variety of fantasy games. For example, when I participate in fantasy games, I play for smaller stakes and focus on entire seasons. Instead of participating over an entire season, others choose to play on sites that allow customers to pick new rosters after a day or a week’s worth of play, enabling multiple games in a year.  

These changes rightfully have legislative leaders taking a closer look at this issue. 

As the legislature considers this issue, it is my hope that Marylanders continue to have the independence and ability to participate. I also hope that lawmakers will work to ensure that such participation is safe, players are protected and games are fair.   

What might this look like? For starters, ensuring that all participants have a fair opportunity, based on skill, to claim winnings. Maryland could also joinstates like Virginia, Massachusetts, and Indiana in passing requirements that verify that players are 18 or older, protect personal and private information of players, and that real life players, coaches and team personnel are restricted from play. 

Smart but tough regulations make a lot of sense in this new environment, as does considering ways Maryland might benefit from new job opportunities or revenues from a growing industry in a regulated environment.

I applaud the Attorney General and my former colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly for their work on this issue, and I hope that just as Maryland has led on online fantasy sports in the past, it can again help lead the way in the future.

John Olszewski, Jr. is a former member of the House of Delegates, the writer was the lead sponsor of 2012 legislation allowing fantasy sports competitions in Maryland. 

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