While fantasy sports leagues often cover an entire season, an emerging trend involves one-week or daily fantasy sports, offering a shorter window, but the potential for an immediate payoff. Daily fantasy football has become big business, and the rewards can be substantial.
But do the leagues represent a form of gambling?
ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell said daily fantasy football requires more skill than chance.
“Every day, you know who is going to play,” Rovell said. “If someone gets hurt, it’s luck. But if it’s just coming down to that day, it’s actually harder to win at daily fantasy than it is at season-long fantasy.”
The leagues, in which participants make up teams with real players, have drawn added attention to NFL action. Studies show that fantasy participants watch more games – and watch them for longer – than people who don’t play fantasy sports.
But critics, including Congressman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., argue that the leagues are a form of gambling. Pallone, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, requested a hearing to examine the relationship of fantasy sports to gambling in professional leagues.
“You know, put down a bet and get a high return by betting on a team, players, whatever. How is it any different from sports betting? I don't see it; what, because you call it fantasy?” Pallone said.
The fantasy industry says it's already legal and has no interest in being regulated if it comes with a "gambling" label. Even the traditional casino companies and regulators have eschewed the word "gambling" until recently, opting for the more antiseptic "gaming" instead to describe what they do.
Daily fantasy sports and its defenders point to a 2006 law, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, that carved out a specific exemption for "fantasy sports" well before the concept of daily games versus week-long or season-long were contemplated. Before the rise of daily fantasy sports, the exception was mostly used by top season-long fantasy operators like Yahoo and CBS Sports.
"Thanks to fantasy sports being specifically excluded from laws affecting online sports betting, FanDuel is not illegal in any way. Trust us, our lawyers drive very nice cars so that we can keep it that way," FanDuel says on its website as its short answer for the frequently asked question, "Is FanDuel Legal?"
Meanwhile, some sports fans really do hit the jackpot. Travis Spieth was able to quit his day job after winning $1 million in a 2013 FanDuel contest.
For Scott Lewis, the big bucks remain a fantasy – at least this week. Lewis watched Monday’s Atlanta Falcons-Philadelphia Eagles game, hoping for a nice payout because of players’ statistical achievements.
“Tonight didn’t really go how I would have liked, but I’m definitely looking forward to next week,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.