Fantasy Football = Felony in Arizona


Fantasy Draft by Chimpanz APe from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Fantasy Draft by Chimpanz APe from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Fantasy football is a Class 5 felony in Arizona. That’s right a felony.

Yeah, I’m with you – What the fuck?!?!

Fantasy football leagues are legal in 45 of the 50 states, but not Arizona. Arizona considers it a “game of chance,” therefore gambling, therefore illegal.

Under federal law, fantasy sports are legal under the Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) because each participant’s team is made up of players from multiple teams and the results “reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals.” Making predictions based on your knowledge of the players’ past performances and making strategic decisions in managing your fantasy football team appears to be sufficient knowledge and skill to comply with the law.

The other big rules are the prizes have to be determined in advance – they can’t be something like a percentage of the total money people paid into the league to play, and the winner cannot be chosen based on a score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams or solely based on one athlete’s performance in one event.

So what’s wrong with Arizona? In Arizona, amusement gambling is not illegal. Here’s the state’s four-part definition of “amusement gambling.”

(1) The player actively participates in the contest.
(2) The outcome is not in the control to any material degree of any person other than the player.
(3) The prizes are not offered as a lure to separate the player from their money.
(4) Any of the following:

(i) No benefit is given to the player other than an immediate and unrecorded right to replay which is not exchangeable for value.
(ii) The gambling is an athletic event and no person other than the player derives a profit or chance of a profit from the money paid to gamble by the player.
(iii) The gambling is an intellectual contest, the money paid to gamble is part of an established purchase price for a product, no increment has been added to the price in connection with the gambling event and no drawing or lottery is held to determine the winner.
(iv) Skill and not chance is clearly the predominant factor in the game and the odds of winning the game based upon chance cannot be altered, no benefit for a single win is given to the player or players other than a merchandise prize which has a wholesale fair market value of less than $4 or coupons which are redeemable only at the place of play and only for a merchandise prize which has a fair market value of less than $4 and, regardless of the number of wins, no aggregate of coupons may be redeemed for a merchandise prize with a wholesale fair market value of greater than $35.

Fantasy Football Hell by Dave Parker from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Fantasy Football Hell by Dave Parker from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Based on this definition, you would think that fantasy sports are a type of amusement gambling, but no, Arizona is backwards and says that fantasy sports are based on chance, not skill, so all fantasy football leagues are illegal.

I’ve never played fantasy football, but I did participate in the Deadliest Catch Fantasy Game this past season. Each week I picked my boat and assembled my crew to maximize my points predicting what was going to happen on the show that week. I will say my knowledge of the show, the crew members, and my training as a former mental health professional helped me predict what was going to happen each week. There was definitely skill involved. (And since I didn’t have to pay-to-play, it wasn’t gambling so don’t waste your time investigating me Arizona.)

This appears to be a low-priority issue in Arizona because I have lots of friends who play fantasy football and none of them have been arrested or know of anyone who has been arrested for participating in a fantasy league. (But they get caught they could be facing at least 6 months in jail and up to a $150,000 fine.)

19 responses to “Fantasy Football = Felony in Arizona”

    • Seriously?! I love that show. That show is a set event on my calendar during the season. I cried when Captain Phil died. I bought the Cornelia Marie shirt (, weaseled my way into coffee with 3 of the captains at SXSW, and saw Captain Keith in Phoenix twice.

      • wow. I would of NEVER guessed it at all.I learned something new about you. Thats really cool. I was huge fan of Flying Wild Alaska, I am still sad its off the air.

  1. Do you have a source that says fantasy sports are a game of chance in the state of Arizona? Attorney General opinion? Case law?

  2. The ADG told me that the USCF’s 116th US Open Chess Championship, to be held at the Arizona Biltmore this August 1-9 (2015) “does not fall within Arizona’s statutory definition of illegal gambling.”

    I asked, because for the past three years I have tried to register a traditional poker tournament as an intellectual gambling contest. The AG has told me that they consider the “product” to be the “prizes” in terms of the intellectual gambling exclusion. To wit, the requirement that the “money paid to gamble is part of the established purchase price of a product” and that “no increment has been added to the established purchase price of the product”. So the Arizona Attorney General believes that if one is participating in, say, a Scrabble contest with a $40 entry fee, that everyone who pays that entry fee is entitled to the prize, which, based on 40 participants, would be $1,600. Since not every participant receives the $1,600 prize pool “product”, the intellectual gambling event is denied. Three years running.

    So when I came upon the US Open Chess Championship with it’s $200 buy-in and $50K cash prize pool based on 500 entrants, I asked ADG to look into it. I also registered a mirror of the event with the AG as intellectual gambling, same as my past three poker tournaments. I have received two denial letters on my chess registration, but clarification of the product and established purchase price of that product, as well as justification of that established purchase price, leads me to believe I’m on the right track.

    Here’s how it works.

    The money paid to gamble ($200 entry fee) is part of the established purchase price ($150K) of a product (the conference and championship event). No increment has been added to the established purchase price of the event — meaning, there is no profit. The cost of putting on the event, the overhead, plus the prizes, wash with the total established value of the event (the revenue streams). By increasing the prize pool by any excess funds collected (Through sales, registrations, sponsors, booth space rentals, etc), no increment is added to the established purchase price.

    Should hear back in 2-3 weeks.

    And I’m suing ADG for their facially fraudulent statement. There is no statutory definition of “illegal gambling”.

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