Gamblers Anonymous Trustees to Vote on Adding Warning Against Fantasy Sports

Trustees of Gamblers Anonymous will consider a sweeping new warning about fantasy football and other fantasy sports.

The News-4 I-Team has learned that international representatives of the problem gambling organization will vote in October on whether to include new guidance to members against playing fantasy sports.

The addition would be made to the famed Gamblers Anonymous Combo Book, a recovery guide gambling addicts are encouraged to carry at all times. Gamblers Anonymous members and an official with the organization's International Service Office told the I-Team the change was suggested by Gamblers Anonymous members from Maryland.

The proposed revisions would add the phrase "fantasy sports" to page 14 of the Combo Book, where the organization lists a series of activities compulsive gamblers are advised to avoid.

The most recent edition of the book includes "lottery tickets, raffle tickets and entering an office sport pool" as similar activities to avoid.

Changes to the Combo Book, which was last revised in April 2014, must be approved through two votes by international trustees of the organization. The trustees will meet in October in Cancun, and again in May in Arizona.

The fantasy sports language was added this week to the agenda of the October meeting, officials told the I-Team.

The recommendation comes amid a continuing surge of interest and participation in fantasy sports leagues and a meteoric rise of daily fantasy sports websites.

Fantasy sports industry representatives estimate 40 million Americans partake in contests each year. Though the industry argues its contests are games of skill, not gambling or games of chance, behavioral health advocates said fantasy sports are a potentially dangerous attraction to compulsive gamblers.

"Fantasy sports, even when they don't involve money, can meet all the psychological criteria of addiction," National Council on Problem Gambling executive director Keith Whyte said. "It can be a preoccupation and a distraction that leads to a loss of time at work and with family."

An official with Gamblers Anonymous International Service Office said the Combo Book is the organization's most frequently used and referenced piece of literature. The book is commonly read aloud at Gamblers Anonymous meetings, members said.

"This language change could very well pass," the official said. "There has been a lot of trustee talk about it."

Though behavioral health officials said fantasy sports are potentially enticing to compulsive gamblers, the fantasy sports industry has argued its contests are not gambling.

An industry trade group, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, has lobbied governments for broader protections for the games.

"Most legislators assume that fantasy sports is [sic] already permitted under state law," online publications from the group said. "Others are under the misconception that it is a game of chance. Help us educate them that fantasy sports contests are games of skill — no different than chess or bowling."

Peter Schoenke, president of ROTOWIRE.COM, and a leader of the industry's trade group, said fantasy sports are not gambling products.

"Fantasy sports don't have the same negative flaws that traditional gambling products have," Schoenke said. "This is not a slot machine where people can just pull over and over and over and over again."

Schoenke said he's sympathetic to the needs of compulsive gamblers, but money is not a primary focus of fantasy sports players.

"Our surveys show people want most to compete with their friends and to enjoy the sport itself," he said.

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