UK Fantasy Sports League License Requirements

After the UK Gaming Commission on Monday released a warning regarding unauthorized fantasy sports, would-be fantasy league organizers may even want to reconsider running an ad for one, or even talking about one online.

With the majority of British fantasy leagues being based on the hugely popular English Premier League and of the season-long variety, this news is likely to be taken quite hard by UK football (that’s soccer to us Yanks) fans. Just in time for the start of the season next month, right?

What does the notice means for fantasy sports organizers?

In yesterday’s notice, the Commission said individuals planning to run a fantasy sports contest “in the course of a business” will need to pick up a pool betting operating license from Her Majesty’s Government if they don’t want to be in violation of the law. The trouble is, the Commission’s own presser states that what constitutes “in the course of a business” has no specific definition and is instead decided on a case-by-case basis. What that means, practically speaking, is that people aiming to start a fantasy sports league are going to have to do some figuring on their own, and, in all likelihood, take a guess as to whether they’re operating legally or not.

Conveniently, the British government provided subjects of the Crown with a handy list of questions to ask themselves before betting they won’t be fined or jailed for running an unauthorized gambling ring. Scattered amongst the list of more reasonable questions regarding wider revenue sources and deductions for running costs are a few real head-scratchers. Such memorable queries as “does it look and feel like commercial gambling?” and “is the source of participants beyond a genuine circle of friends and relations?” and, most perplexingly “what is the level of activity required in running the league?” round out the list.

What if you have a great relationship with your extended-extended family members and they’re sports fans too? What if you have way too much time on your hands and you’d rather have the best fantasy sports league ever instead of a pristinely manicured lawn? Looks like that is all part of what’s meant by “case-by-case basis.

Advertising Is Also Out, Evidently

The Commission’s notice also devoted considerable ink to tackling the subject of advertising and what would constitute illegal advertising if one didn’t have the appropriate license. The release rather cryptically states that “doing anything which encourages someone to gamble” counts as advertising, as does using Twitter or Facebook, whether publicly or privately, to provide information about a fantasy sports league.

Presumably, this would mean any kind of promotion (or even talking online) about a fantasy league would mean it was being operated as a business and would therefore fall under the purview of the law. And - in the age when most folks can’t resist posting pictures of what they eat for breakfast on social media every morning - that means more licenses are liable to get sold.

Daily Fantasy Sports’ Legal Status in the UK

Fantasy sports laws are a major topic in the U.S. these days, with New Jersey’s impending day before the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of barring all but four states from regulating (and profiting from) sports betting. Even though laws passed in America sometimes cover paid-entry season-long fantasy sports and, of course, paid-entry DFS, the UK’s regulatory efforts on both have been much more sweeping in nature.

That said, even with all the regulatory hoops to jump through, several daily fantasy sports (DFS) operators have set up shop in the UK in the last two years alone, FanDuel, PlayON and Yahoo DFS among them. Heck one the biggest names in the game, DraftKings, even set up a UK branch just to tap into the market. However, despite hype to the contrary from DraftKings and FanDuel in the media, the UK market has not exactly turned out to be a huge money-maker when it comes to DFS revenues.

The Bottom Line

Requiring DFS operators – most of them the large e-firms outlined above – to purchase licenses is one thing, but the British government’s new notice probably indicates that things are being taken a step too far in Blighty. Also included in the warning issued by the Gambling Commission is the provision that, regardless where an individual organizer is based in the world, they will need a license to operate their fantasy league if it serves British players with its “facilities.” Whether or not that means a literal brick-and-mortar building somewhere or merely the platform upon which wagers can be exchanged is anyone’s guess.

Though the prices for an application fee to get the proper license isn’t exactly exorbitant, coming in at 586 quid (or 746 bucks and some change, American) for an annual gross gambling yield of £1.5 million or less, the price isn’t the issue here. The issue is that honest sports fans could be left wondering if they’re about to win an all-expenses-paid trip to the chow line for setting up a decent betting pool on a game of footie. All that could have been avoided, and the real bad actors could have been better held accountable, if only the Gambling Commission on UK sport betting sites had been a little more specific with its wording.

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