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(The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Md. fantasy sports legislation: Don’t bet on it this year

ANNAPOLIS — Fans of commercial fantasy sports play may find the outcome of the 2016 Maryland General Assembly session less than satisfying.

Two Senate bills meant to address the legality of popular sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings appears doomed in the House of Delegates heading into Monday, the final day of the session, at the same time that those companies have paid for radio ads urging players to contact legislators to oppose the laws.

“The House should take action up, down or across the town,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who is the lead sponsor of one of two Senate bills aimed at the commercial fantasy industry.

Both of those bills are remain in the House Ways and Means Committee after a hearing Thursday, and some lawmakers say the committee may not take any action on them at all but if they do, the legislation will likely look significantly different.

“It doesn’t sound to me like either of them is moving,” said Sen. Nancy J. King, D-Montgomery and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight. “We still have to look at it. It’s not going away. We’ll probably have to do something over the summer. I think we’ll study it in the gaming oversight committee.”

Failure to pass either of the bills would place the sites in a legally precarious position and potentially force Attorney General Brian E. Frosh to order them to cease operations in the state.

The two Senate bills, which seemingly do different things, work in tandem to address concerns raised by a 22-page advisory letter from by Assistant Attorney General Kathryn M. Rowe and Adam D. Snyder, the office’s chief counsel for opinions and advice in the legislative division. Rowe and Snyder argue that sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are commercial gaming, meaning they are subject to approval by voters and were not covered in a 2012 law that legalized the non-commercial, season-long games and office pools that most participants play.

Rowe and Snyder conclude that because the “General Assembly did not focus on the regulation of daily fantasy sports in 2012, and could not realistically have considered daily fantasy sports as they exist today, we recommend that the Legislature squarely take up the issue this session and clarify whether daily fantasy sports are authorized in Maryland.”

Under Miller’s legislation, commercial sites would be considered gaming and illegal in Maryland without enabling legislation and voter approval.

“It’s clearly illegal,” Miller said, referring to the advisory letter.

Voter referendum?

A second bill, sponsored by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, D-Prince George’s, would put the issue before voters in November, and, if approved by referendum, would require sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings to be licensed to operate in the state. The measure also would prohibit players under the age of 21 and bar more experienced players from playing in daily contests marketed to casual players.

But Peters’ bill, if passed and approved by voters, would require the sites to obtain a gaming license from the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency similar to those obtained by casinos.

Nevada imposed a similar requirement on the sites, and so far none has applied because doing so could be seen as an acknowledgement that the activity is gambling — something site operators repeatedly deny.

Legislators in the House appear uninterested in either option and are said to be considering options including full regulation, a summer study or doing nothing at all.

Miller called on the House to pass the bills but said in the absence of legislative action, Frosh should step in.

“I would hope he would file to get an injunction just like the attorney general of New York and just like attorneys general all over the United States have done, saying, ‘You stop until you get legislative action,’” Miller said, adding that Frosh’s intervention “is a last resort.”

Such action would likely lead to litigation similar to what is occurring in New York and do little to resolve the overarching issue.

“In the meantime,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke, D-Montgomery and co-chair of the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight, “we’ve got to figure out how to regulate this in the right way. We shouldn’t be making it up as we go along.”