MLB, NBA, and NHL Players Cannot Play Daily Fantasy; NFL Takes Position It's Not an Issue

By Jason Lisk
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Every major league (or at least one team in that league) has a partnership deal with a daily fantasy gaming site. It’s a rapidly growing industry (our parent company, USA Today, owns FantasyScore, a daily fantasy gaming site). The Inside Blitz earlier this week examined whether Daily Fantasy was one way that MLB was trying to attract a younger audience in the face of some long-term fan demographic concerns.

The fantasy games are legal in most states after the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006 carved out exceptions for fantasy sports “games of skill.” With leagues now becoming more entwined with the businesses that are attracting a young group of fans, it’s a reasonable question to wonder how each league will deal with player conduct and restrictions on their own players in participating.

In “Daily Fantasy Growth Pushes Leagues to Regulate Players”, Bloomberg News provided insight into how each league is trying to address it.

The short answer: MLB, NBA, and NHL say they prohibit players from participating in Daily Fantasy Games within their respective sports. The NFL did not provide an answer.

From the article:

MLB

"MLB, which has a sponsorship deal with DraftKings Inc., the second-biggest fantasy site by entry fee, agreed with its players’ union during the offseason to ban players from participating in any fantasy baseball game that offers money or other prizes, according to league spokesman Pat Courtney. “We want it to be about competition on the field and for on-field personnel to have no other outside influences on them with regard to the game,” Courtney said in a phone interview."

Players are allowed to endorse or have marketing deals with companies, but cannot participate directly. According to the article, the players’ union and MLB expressly worked out this agreement before the season. So if you were wondering how Rule 21 (on Player Misconduct, Gambling, etc) intersects with Daily Fantasy, the players are not permitted to do it, and would therefore be subject to discipline.

Rob Manfred, meanwhile, has come out and said he does not consider Daily Fantasy to be gambling.

NBA

"Our policy is that NBA personnel are prohibited from participating in NBA fantasy leagues that require payment of an entry fee or award prizes to participants,” Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. Gary Kohlman, general counsel of the National Basketball Players Association, said the union has never been advised of the ban."

So the NBA position is that players are prohibited, but the Players Association does not agree that there has been resolution, unlike MLB’s agreement with the players.

Meanwhile, NBPA deputy executive director of player relations Roger Mason Jr. said that it is gambling, but is mostly under the radar among the players at the moment. “If you’re putting money down, and winning money in return, that’s gambling.”

NHL

"“We do not consider fantasy sports (particularly ‘play for free’ fantasy sports) to constitute gambling, and neither do nearly all of the jurisdictions and legislative bodies who have opined on that issue. That said, the NHL’s rules do not permit players to participate in fantasy hockey-based games for cash prizes.”"

That is from Bill Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner. The NHLPA spokesman says the issue has not been discussed.

NFL

"National Football League spokesman Brian McCarthy said it wasn’t an issue and didn’t respond to further questions about it. Ahmad Nassar, NFL Players Inc. president, agreed with the league’s stand that it wasn’t an issue, though a situation the union was “watching closely.”"

The NFL, which notably does not have any agreement yet as a league, is behind the others in terms of formulating a policy. We’ve seen that player discipline issues with the NFL often feel like they are a “make it up as it goes” situation, but it would be difficult to see the NFL making any move in this gray area. MLB, meanwhile, seems most out in front on this by already reaching a formal agreement with the players.

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