NEW YORK - As fantasy football advertisements are pushing aside beer commercials on TV broadcasts of Eagles games, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D., N.J.) is trying on multiple fronts to get equal legal treatment for sports gambling.
Last week, he called for congressional hearings, with the hope of changing federal law to make gambling as legal as sports fantasy. On Monday, after a gambling-fantasy panel discussion here, Pallone was asked what he would say to the judges on the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit who were asked to reconsider New Jersey's challenge to a 1992 federal law that in effect restricts legal sports gambling to Nevada.
Pallone said the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment makes federal gambling law unconstitutional.
"How is it that one state can have sports betting and other states can't?" Pallone told The Inquirer.
New Jersey lost a 2-1 decision in the Third Circuit in August, but filed a request Sept. 8 for a full hearing on whether its state law is valid.
Pallone, who wants Atlantic City casinos and state horse tracks to be able to offer sports betting, was the lead speaker at a panel discussion hosted by the Qatar-based International Centre for Sport Security and devoted to sports gambling, fantasy sports, and whether any of it could be of use to society.
Chris Eaton, the center's executive director and a former chief of security for FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, said he was not arguing for people to gamble. But knowing that millions do, he said, he urged legalization and regulation, because it would move much of the activity into the open and out of the hands of organized crime.
"Criminality loves the darkness," Eaton said at the forum, held at Hill Country Barbecue in Manhattan.
Fantasy sports have existed for decades in one form or another, but participation has exploded in recent years. Research for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association suggests that nearly 57 million people in the United States and Canada will play in 2015.
In fantasy sports, a person picks real players for an imaginary team and then wins based on how those players perform in actual games. In many situations, a fantasy player competes against friends over an entire season, now often using online tools. Companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel, neither of which existed before 2009, have made fantasy sports into a daily activity and added millions of dollars in prize money.
A 2006 federal law draws a distinction between fantasy sports and gambling, making one legal and the other not. The fantasy sports industry clings to that difference, partly because it has allowed companies to strike individual deals with pro teams, including those in Philadelphia, and most of the major leagues.
For a time, pro sports leagues described gambling as immoral, Pallone noted.
"Can you help me understand the sheer hypocrisy of that?" panel moderator and former Bill Clinton aide James Carville asked Pallone while they were on stage.
"I think it's just about the money," Pallone said.
Leagues quietly sneered at fantasy sports participants until they realized those fans were also among the most devoted TV viewers and the leagues could make money off the business of fantasy sports. Now, stadiums are designed with places where fantasy players can gather to check the stats of players in other games while still buying beer from the local team.
The NHL and Major League Baseball have leaguewide agreements or equity investments with DraftKings. Even if a league goes one way, a team can go the other: The NBA partnered with FanDuel, but the 76ers were the first team to strike a deal with DraftKings.
ESPN has a deal with DraftKings, and a portion of the Sunday morning pregame show has DraftKings signage as well as a discussion of players worth picking. Comcast Corp., parent of NBC and the Flyers, has invested in FanDuel.
NFL teams are divided. The Eagles chose FanDuel, but the league has no overarching agreement.
That hasn't stopped owners Bob Kraft of New England and Jerry Jones of Dallas from investing in fantasy sports companies through other ventures.
"There is no change in our long-standing position against the proliferation of gambling on our games," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote Monday in an email. "Daily fantasy is considered a game of skill. There's no league sponsorship agreement or investment in those companies. Clubs may accept traditional advertising within their controlled media properties, including TV, radio, digital, print and stadium signage, provided no club or league marks are included in such advertisements. The daily fantasy marketplace is in its infancy and we continue to follow developments."