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Is Gambling on Fantasy Football Legal?

Fantasy football is one of the most popular pastimes for sports lovers who don’t play the games themselves. Although many leagues are free to enter, many have a pay-to-play design and even encourage betting. Is gambling on fantasy football legal, or could it get you in serious trouble?


If you’re interested in learning more about whether or not gambling is legal on fantasy football, you’re in the right place. It’s always an excellent idea to know what you’re getting into before making a decision that could be illegal. Read on to learn more about what separates fantasy football from sports bettings, legality in the states, and other helpful information. 


Fantasyfeature Scaled

What Is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy football is what it sounds like - it’s football that people participate in from afar, making up their teams and winning or losing based on how they play. Participants will sign up for a league, strategize, and pick the players from various teams they think will play the best in that season.


In fantasy football, you can:


  • Compete against your friends

  • Draft a team

  • Enjoy football in a new way


Essentially, each person works as a digital football team manager and team owner, pulling people onto their team and booting them off to emerge victorious in their team - most of which are composed of family, friends, or coworkers. However, things get complicated when gambling comes into the picture with fantasy football.

What Separates Fantasy Football from Traditional Sports Betting?

Some signifiers are critical here. Sports betting is slowly becoming legal, though there are many areas where it isn’t yet - but sports betting is not the same as fantasy football betting, which is why things can get complicated when money becomes involved in the fantasy football process.


Sports betting involves putting money down on various things that can happen in a game. For example, someone might place a moneyline bet to determine which team will win or a parlay bet to put money down on several possible outcomes. It’s a game that is primarily based on change.


On the other hand, fantasy football involves strategy and research as the participant gathers their team together and chooses who they want on their side. It typically doesn’t involve money. However, in recent years, sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have opened up the opportunity to earn money based on your fantasy football wagers.


Related: What Sports Can You Bet On? (More Than You Think!)


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What is Federal Law on Fantasy Football Gambling?

Technically, the federal law against fantasy football teams does not provide a method known as “pay-to-play,” where each person must pay a certain amount of money before they can make a team. However, thanks to the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, there are exemptions — as long as various criteria are met.


Those criteria include the following:


  • Bets aren’t on a specific game outcome or a player

  • Value of the winning prize is established beforehand, not determined by participant payments

  • Winning is related to the expertise, talent, and skill of fantasy footballers


Essentially, the process cannot resemble traditional sports betting—it must be based on the participant's skills.


These rules exist to separate fantasy football from sports betting - fantasy football should remain something that requires skill to win, while sports betting is solely related to chance for the participants.


Although these are federal laws, the regulations are up to the states. Each state has a differing opinion on how pay-to-play fantasy football works in their location.

States That Approve of Fantasy Football Gambling

Since states make their regulations surrounding fantasy football, many have chosen to move in a positive direction. These states fall into the camp that fantasy football isn’t gambling in the traditional sense, so it deserves protection as long as players of the game don’t go down the sports gambling rabbit hole. You can “gamble,” but not in the traditional sense.


The following states are more lenient on their fantasy football laws:


  • Maryland

  • Utah

  • Florida

  • Indiana

  • Michigan

  • Minnesota

  • Missouri

  • Nebraska

  • Vermont

  • Virginia


These locations either have protective legislation in place or are pushing it forward. These states don’t have too much legislation that targets fantasy football, and they have determined that the fantasy football experience is far less based on luck and more centered on skill. If you want to participate in fantasy football with a pay-to-play design, these locations are on your side. Their legislation might provide more protection in the years to come.


Related: Where is Sportsbetting Legal? (Updated 2023)

States That Disapprove of Fantasy Football Gambling

Of course, this decision isn’t unanimous across all states. Some states look at the pay-to-play gambling experience in fantasy football and decide it leans more towards the luck end of the spectrum. One of the most curious here is Nevada, the home of gambling - they’ve also decided to consider fantasy football as gambling. This determination makes it less legal.


The following states are more against the fantasy football experience than others:


  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • Iowa

  • Louisiana

  • Nevada

  • North Dakota

  • Tennessee


These have determined fantasy football gambling isn’t legal in their state and have enacted far more legislation. Since these spots consider fantasy football gambling, there are far more regulations in these states, and some even have bans, which means it might be illegal to bring money into a fantasy football experience. Their legislation could change in the coming years, but they will likely become stricter towards fantasy football gambling.

Final Thoughts

Gambling is something that’s slowly found its way into the fantasy football world, taking the form of an entry fee for players to join a league during the season. Although the consensus is that fantasy football differs from traditional sports gambling, many states have chosen to create legislation against fantasy football gambling efforts.


We hope this information is helpful as you enjoy the fantasy football experience. If you plan on participating in a fantasy football league that allows gambling through your entry fee and other measures, it’s critical to proceed with caution. Some states might enact legal measures if they find you’re participating in an illegal gambling operation, even if it’s just fantasy football.


You May Also Enjoy: What Sports Are the Most Profitable to Bet On?

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