Bill declaring fantasy sports legal passes House committee

In a hearing Tuesday, the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures approved a bill that would affirm the legality of online fantasy sports.

A Texas House panel on Tuesday approved a proposal proclaiming that fantasy sports are legal.  

The proposal by state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond, D-Laredo, would classify fantasy sports as games of skill, not of chance. The consideration of House Bill 1457 comes a year after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton questioned whether fantasy sports are legal and equated paid fantasy sports sites to online gambling, which is illegal. 

The measure cleared the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures on a 6-1 vote.

“I play fantasy football. I have a lot of friends that do,” Raymond previously told The Texas Tribune. “I filed the bill just to clarify, but I think [fantasy football] is legal already ... If you don’t think fantasy football is a game of skill, then you haven’t played it.”

Paxton's opinion suggested paid fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel — which offer Texans the potential to win money through their virtual teams — violated the state's prohibition on betting on games of chance. While critics say fantasy sports sites are hubs for illegal online gambling, others contend the games are based on skill and are therefore legitimate.

The Texas Fantasy Sports Alliance issued a statement praising the committee for taking an "important step toward affirming the right of Texans."

“Fantasy sports in our state are no different from other legal contests that Texans have enjoyed for decades," spokesman Scott Dunaway said in a news release. "Technology has simply evolved the way Texans compete."

However, opponents of the measure say that passage of the bill would constitute an expansion of gambling. When the bill was first introduced in committee, Ben Wright with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention testified against the measure, though he identified as a "15-year fantasy football veteran."

"This skill-versus-chance distinction that proponents of the bill are making is unsustainable," Wright said. 

Fantasy sports allow fans to draft real players from various sporting leagues to create a fictional team. The players' real-time statistics are then compiled and the team with the highest overall ranking wins. Fans can track their teams through web sites or apps.

Eight members of the Texas House — including Raymond — have signed on to the bill as authors or co-authors. State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed a companion bill in the upper chamber. 

Read related Tribune coverage: