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The UK Gambling Commission Warns Fantasy Football Operators

by Glenn Baird - July 22, 2017

In an effort to crackdown on unlicensed fantasy football leagues the UKGC have released a warning to anyone looking to organise one in time for the new football season.

With August drawing closer, the annual spate of assembling fantasy football leagues will be winging their way to a workplace near you. Staff rooms and office spaces will be dusting themselves off for a new year of carefully crafted team selection. Finding the right balance between the obvious picks and those intuitive shots to nothing is a fine art that just about everyone who joins a fantasy league thinks, despite years of contradictory failure, they have mastered.

Lunch time debates will rage around the slowly boiling kettle. Cheap instant coffee, consumed by the bucket-load, will be slurped back and as the grey dusty liquid wheezes an empty 5 minutes of spurious life into the mid-day gloom we ask ourselves the big questions. We do so with the wide-eyed optimism that only a clean slate can bring, over a year ahead which will inevitably blow last year’s cobwebbed disappointment into the corners of our minds.

The Holy Grail will be the top goal scorer. Kane, Sanchez, Morata? Will the medical staff at The Etihad perform a minor miracle and keep Agüero fit for a whole season? Or will Lukaku prove he’s worth the £75 million Manchester United paid for him and help the Red Devils turn last season’s draws into wins? Or maybe, just maybe there’s a Jamie Vardy waiting to take everyone, except you, by surprise?

In the first few weeks bragging rights will be up for grabs before the vast majority of those involved forget to keep checking and changing their team, beaten down slowly by players failing to turn up for them and the dawning realisation that there’s a good reason no one opts to play four up front. Within weeks the optimism will be gone and the minor victories for those who resolutely refuse to quit will have to celebrate or commiserate by themselves, until the rush of next season’s opening few weeks sees the soccer starved masses rise up from the grave of a summer with no football to begin the whole damn process all over again.

However, the most important question, the one the UKGC are asking of everyone involved in fantasy sports leagues has probably never been asked. All fantasy sports league coordinators now have to ensure that they are not in breach of gambling laws. Depending on the size of the operation, the winnings available and the methods that are used to advertise their leagues it may be necessary for organisers to obtain a pool betting licence from the UKCG.
The Commission do state that exceptions to these laws come into place “where it is not run in the course of a business, or where it is run privately, for example with residents of the same premises or between work colleagues.”

What is difficult with this advice is that the commission do not define what “the course of a business” means. In fact they make it clear that there is no definition and that each case will be looked at and assessed individually.
The one clear piece of advice for all organisers is how they advertise their league, especially if the vehicle is social media.

The advice states that:

“Advertising, when it comes to gambling, includes doing anything that encourages someone to gamble, or provides information about gambling facilities so that it will increase use. This includes Twitter or Facebook posts, whether public, or private or within groups.

Promoting a fantasy football league in this way could mean it is being operated in the course of a business and will need an operating licence.”

Ben Haden, programme director at the Gambling Commission, said:

“Fantasy football is no doubt a popular pastime for many during football season and many will be thinking about setting up their own league this summer.

“We want to ensure that those organising these leagues – whether it’s between friends, work colleagues or otherwise – are aware of the legalities and do not breach gambling rules.”

On their advice page the UKGC want all organisers of fantasy leagues to consider the following important questions:

• Does it look and feel like commercial gambling?
• Is it run for profit?
• Is there any deduction for running costs?
• Is the source of participants beyond a genuine circle of friends and relations?
• Is advertising used to obtain participants?
• Is the size of the league beyond what is normal for a private league?
• Can any member of the public view or join the league?
• What is the level of activity required in running the league?
• Are there any wider revenue sources?

If, other than the more specific second last question, all your answers are negative then you know that bragging rights are back on the table. If not, then you might find that you are precisely the sort of operation that the UKGC are looking to crackdown on. If you are an organiser then you need to consider just how many arms and legs your league has grown or you could find yourself in breach of gambling law.