Jeff Danielson

The Iowa Senate has approved a bill that would classify “fantasy sports leagues” as games of skill, so Iowans could accept any amount of prize money for winning. Under current law, Iowans who assemble a “team” of real professional athletes on a “fantasy” squad can win no more than $50 a day in any competition.

“We are currently in legal limbo,” said Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids who was the bill’s floor manager. “We have never clearly defined what fantasy sports are in Iowa.”

The bill passed on a 32-16 vote. Senator Tony Bisignano, a Democrat from Des Moines, was a reluctant supporter who warned that legislators will have to revisit this topic in the future.

Tony Bisignano

Tony Bisignano

“Follow the money,” Bisignano said. “Follow the money in this because the state of Iowa right now has no way of catching any of this money except if one of us happens to win, but somebody’s going to make tens of billions of dollars on this friendly little game.”

The NFL’s “Perfect Challenge” fantasy game has a $1 million prize and, if an Iowan were to win, it would be illegal for them to collect that prize. If the bill becomes law, an Iowan could claim the million dollars — and they’d have to pay income taxes on those winnings.

Julian Garrett

Julian Garrett

Senator Julian Garrett, a Republican from Indianola, said there may be a certain amount of skill involved, but he said you “can’t legitimately argue there’s no gamble.”

“I don’t spend hours and hours studying players and teams and so on, but I do know enough to know that no matter how much skill you think you have, things don’t always go the way you might think,” Garrett said. “A star player has an off day, throws three interceptions and his team loses the game; somebody comes off the bench and does a fantastic job and scores 20 points.”

Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, was another no vote on the bill. He said winning big prizes for how a “fantasy” group of pro athletes performs in games is no different that gambling on the outcome of a real professional team’s game.

Jason Schultz

Jason Schultz

“I know that’s an unpopular way to put it, I understand that,” Schultz said. “We call it a game of skill and I understand legally or technically it can be as such, but the fact remains we have money we have reward we have a quick turn-over in daily games.”

Danielson conceded it’s a “sensitive moral subject,” but he argued the bill strikes a careful balance.

“So the bill before us says that fantasy sports contests under Iowa’s definition are not considered gambling and the reason for that is because it’s a game of skill, not a game of chance,” Danielson said.

The bill would classify fantasy sports teams as “social gaming” like bowling leagues and cribbage tournaments — the kind of events where Iowans can win prizes. The bill must clear the Iowa House, too, and win the governor’s signature before the proposal would become law.