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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2005

Are fantasy games legal? It depends

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

Some versions of fantasy sports gaming would be legal under Hawai'i's "social gambling" law that requires:

• Players to compete on equal terms.

• No player receives anything of value except his own gambling winnings.

• No other person receives a "cut" of the money.

• The activity does not occur in a public place or business establishment.

• Each player is 18 years or older.

• The gambling activity does not constitute bookmaking.

For example, a fantasy sports game would be legal if five participants paid an entry fee, say $20, for a $100 total pot. At the end of the season, the winner would pocket $100.

However, if a participant is obligated to pay a "fee" to the "house" just to play the game, the activity falls outside the "social gambling" defense and becomes illegal gambling.

For example, a fantasy game could be illegal if a league commissioner took a "cut" of entry fees for himself.

Detective Chris Duque of the Honolulu Police Department's White Collar Crime Unit said he has had no complaints about online fantasy sports leagues.

Duque said there's "no clear cut answer" from law enforcement whether participating in fee-based online fantasy sports leagues is illegal in Hawai'i.

"There's a lot of issues we have to look at," Duque said. "I don't want to say all fantasy football is illegal. It has to be a case-by-case basis. It's something that a lot of agencies are having a hard time addressing, including HPD."

The NFL, which bans players and all other employees from betting on its games, doesn't consider fantasy football gambling since it doesn't involve direct wagers on the outcome of games, commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said, according to a Bloomberg News story.

Source: Honolulu Police Department and Prosecuting Attorney's office

Reach Brandon Masuoka at bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2458.