The once quaint game of fantasy football has turned into big business and state Representative Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside) wants to make sure some rules are in place to regulate it.

Zalewski held a news conference last week to announce that he is introducing legislation to oversee the rapidly growing industry of daily online fantasy sports leagues.

The legislation would make clear that, legally, online fantasy sports betting is classified as a game of skill and, therefore, not gambling. Zalewski’s bill would establish best practices that sites could implement to avoid more intrusive regulation. 

The legislation calls for the operators of fantasy sports betting sites to bar anyone under the age of 18 from playing, prevent players from overplaying and allow daily fantasy sites to check players for child support orders or tax liens.

“There’s a reason we see Fan Duel and DraftKings advertising so frequently during Sunday football and other major sporting events, and why policymakers here and around the country are playing close attention,” Zalewski said at a press conference held Oct.27 at the Thompson Center in Chicago. “We have a chance here to put Illinois at the forefront of a new and emerging technology and to encourage responsible innovation, rather than stifle it.”

DraftKings and FanDuel allow players to pick a team of football players; the team with the best composite statistics in any week can win a pool of money. Recent news that employees of the companies have been allowed to play and may have had access to confidential information and strategies has sparked concern and lawsuits. 

Zalewski says sites that do not incorporate the best practices outlined in his bill would face government regulation and audits.

“I think these sites are becoming very popular,” Zalewski said in a telephone interview with the Landmark. “We want to make sure that people’s monies are protected when they play these games. I’m getting a lot of flak for being Big Brotherly, but ultimately we want to be at the forefront of this stuff instead of worrying about something going wrong down the line.”

State Rep. John Anthony (R-Morris) is cosponsoring Zalewski’s bill.

Zalewski, himself a passionate sports fan, says he has participated in fantasy leagues and tried the popular daily sites a couple of times. He says that his legislation is directed toward the big business of daily online fantasy sports leagues and not on the countless small stakes leagues consisting of groups of friends.

“The intent of the bill is not to regulate your regular weekly league,” Zalewski said. “I’m bad at both of them, so I’m going to focus on being a lawmaker and not focus on being a fantasy player.”

Zalewski, who appeared on a sports talk radio show last week to discuss his bill, says he doesn’t expect the Illinois General Assembly to seriously consider his legislation until next year.

“Everyone’s main focus should be on the budget right now, but I thought it would be a good time to talk about it,” Zalewski said. 

Zalewski was first elected to the state legislature in 2010 and has been an energetic legislator who has drawn attention downstate. He also serves as Riverside Township Democratic Committeeman.

The fantasy sports bill and news conference is the latest example of Zalewski jumping on a controversial topic and proposing legislation to deal with it. Zalewski has sponsored legislation to regulate ride-share companies such as Uber and has sponsored bills to control guns and crack down on crime. He also served on a committee to consider pension reform.

“He’s a very active member of the General Assembly,” said Steve Brown, the spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan. “He’s, I think, a very smart member, appears to be a good lawyer [and] takes on a lot of complicated issues that require negotiation. I think the speaker is always welcoming of people who make an extra effort, especially to take on controversial things, so he’s a welcome addition to the Illinois House.”

Could a run for higher office, say attorney general, be in Zalewski’s future?

“My focus is completely on running for state representative for the next two years,” said Zalewski, who is running for re-election next year.

Zalewski said he doesn’t expect the state’s budget impasse to be settled until January when the requirement for passing a bill that goes into immediate effect is reduced to a simple majority.

“That’s when you only need 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate, so I think it becomes an easier political road to hoe at that point,” Zalewski said.

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