Gaming compact appeared to open the door for teens 18+ to play fantasy sports, but lawmakers are closing it

A FanDuel advertisement for fantasy football is seen as the New Orleans Saints take the field against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images 2019

In several states, 18, 19 and 20-year-olds play fantasy sports, but lawmakers in Florida are pushing back, instead setting a minimum age of 21 for the contests as they shape new gambling regulations — part of a compact between the state and the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

But businesses operating the popular fantasy sports platforms, such as DraftKings and FanDuel, are hoping that would change, because a demographic as young as 18 would pull in millions for businesses and Florida.

With less than a week to address the concerns of fantasy sports companies, fans and supporters and opponents of the overall issue, it’s not clear if lawmakers will address the age barrier or keep it at 21 and older.

Some Floridians don’t want fantasy sports contests at all in the state. The issue has been hazy about the legality of what’s going on, with players participating in the fantasy contests at their own risk. Legislation would cement regulations as part of the compact.

Scott Ward, an attorney, spoke out on the issue in committee hearings Monday on behalf of his clients, DraftKings and FanDuel.

“There are hundreds of thousands of 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds in Florida who are playing fantasy sports legally, happily, enjoying it and having a good time,” Ward told a Senate subcommittee Monday. “Pass this bill and they (the 18 to 20 year-olds) would not be allowed to do that anymore.”

According to Ward, Florida would be an outlier if its minimum age to participate in fantasy sports was 21, as most states have established that 18 would be the minimum age.

The compact between the state and the Tribe says that no person “under the age of twenty-one shall be allowed to play Covered Games,” which would include the likes of slot machines, raffles, sports betting and fantasy sports contests.

But then the compact continues: “…unless otherwise permitted by State law.” This language appears to provide flexibility for lawmakers to make changes to that age limit through legislation, potentially lowering the age for young adults to participate in the games.

In fact, an official summary of the gaming compact provided by the Florida Senate, gave this exact situation as an example: “Limit the play of Covered Games to persons who must be 21 years of age or older, unless otherwise permitted by state law (i.e. fantasy sports contests players 18 years of age or older.)”

Fantasy sports is a game in which sports fans can invent an imaginary team composed of real athletes from different teams, often using an online platform to facilitate playing. How well a fantasy sports team does depends on the statistics and performance of these athletes when they play real games.

According to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, a national organization that advocates for the interests of fantasy sports gaming companies and fantasy sports players, 19% of Americans aged 18 and older participate in fantasy sports. It’s a significant industry.

Fantasy sports organizations and companies have found some faults with the Florida legislation regarding fantasy sports. They claim that some provisions limit participation, including forbidding collegiate teams in fantasy sports, implementing hefty application fees to operate in Florida, and imposing the 21 minimum age.

In fact, the FSGA has called on its members asking them to contact their representative or senator to oppose the legislation.

There are a couple bills that reiterate that fantasy sports should be restricted to 21 and up.

For example, the overarching implementation legislation, House Bill 1A and Senate Bill 2A, indicate that a person must be 21 to participate in fantasy sports.

But, so far, most lawmakers are going with 21.

However, Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican who represents part of Pinellas County, voiced his frustration with the higher age limit being considered. He previously opposed legislation that moved Florida’s smoking and vaping age to 21.

“Florida, consistently, is changing the age of adulthood to 21,” Brandes said during a Senate committee meeting.

Some would argue that fantasy sports should be open to everyone 18 and older because that is the age of adulthood. Most people who are 18 are eligible to vote, can be drafted into the military, apply for a loan, and make other decisions.