A longstanding industry suspicion was confirmed in Oregon with nothing but a check mark, as a lobbyist representing International Game Technology (IGT) officially aligned the company in opposition to daily fantasy sports (DFS).
At a March 29 public hearing held by the Oregon House Committee on Business and Labor, state legislators heard comments and testimony on a pair of DFS-related bills introduced this year: HB-2549 and HB-2761.
The first bill, introduced in January by Representative Jodi Hack (R-19), would direct the Oregon State Lottery Commission to oversee the regulation of legal DFS contests for real money. Crucially, HB-2549 states that DFS is a game of skill, observing that “winning outcomes reflect the knowledge and skill of the fantasy contest players.”
The second bill, introduced in February and sponsored by the Committee on Business and Labor, would classify DFS as a “contest of chance” within the state’s overall system of gambling law. In effect, HB-2761’s passage would deem DFS to be an unlawful gambling activity under Oregon state law.
John Powell, who attended the hearing as a lobbyist for IGT, signed a pair of Witness Registration documents – one opposing HB-2549 and another supporting HB-2761. This marked the first public position on the DFS industry taken by IGT, following years of neutrality and silence on the issue.
The two major operators within the DFS industry – DraftKings and FanDuel – both hold an operational philosophy that sees them withdraw from any market which classifies their business model as chance-based gambling rather than a skill-based competition.
Thus, IGT’s support of HB-2761 in Oregon can be interpreted as the casino gambling equipment titan working to push DraftKings and FanDuel out of the state. That interpretation is bolstered by the fact that IGT signed an exclusive agreement with the Oregon Lottery last year, one which saw the company ship 1,500 video lottery terminals (VLTs) to the state.
According to Marc La Vorgna, who serves as a spokesperson for both DraftKings and FanDuel, the VLT deal provides IGT with incentive to corner the fantasy sports market for itself. La Vorgna spoke with Dustin Gouker of Legal Sports Report on April 13 to outline his theory on IGT’s renewed resistance to DFS in Oregon:
“It’s all a phony effort to use their government contracts – where they take tens of millions from taxpayers – to block competition and create some kind of cheap, scratch-off version of fantasy sports for them to profit off.
But we were glad to see in Oregon, IGT was finally willing to put their name on being anti-fantasy sports.”
During the public hearing, Committee chairman Representative Paul Holvey (D-8) and his colleagues heard testimony from several stakeholders on both sides of the DFS debate.
Organizations like the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling and the Lane County Public Health Department commented on the need for greater consumer protections to protect against addiction.
Daniel Haight of Yahoo Fantasy Sports, a mid-major DFS operator, offered its full support for HB-2549 and its game of skill designation.
One organization offered particularly strenuous opposition to DFS during the hearing, as the newly formed Stop Daily Fantasy Gambling (SDFG) issued a stern rebuke of the industry as a whole.
Michael Grimes, the lobby group’s executive director, provided the following testimony in support of HB-2761:
“Many states across the nation are struggling with the question of whether and how to allow online daily fantasy sports gambling amid an aggressive legislative push by the big companies that run these games of chance, and the approach taken by HB 2761 will ensure the best interests of the citizens of Oregon are protected.”
Speaking with Legal Online Sports, La Forgna cast doubt on the legitimacy of SDFG’s efforts, even making an as yet unsubstantiated claim linking them to IGT:
“They have been operating in the shadows, building a sham, astroturf anti-fantasy sports group based out of Texas. Three people on the board, one is a San Francisco attorney who has represented IGT interests for 20 years – not a coincidence.”