IL Supreme Court Says DFS Is Game Of Skill But Stops Short Of Extending Classification To Online Gambling

Posted on April 24, 2020

An Illinois man’s attempt to recover his losses in an NBA fantasy contest is over. The Illinois Supreme Court ruling in this case effectively ends his bid at the state level and could have ramifications later in how the state handles gambling expansion.

In the eyes of the state’s highest court, DFS contests are not gambling. The court’s decision means more legislation is necessary to ever legalize online poker, slots and table games throughout IL in the future, however.

Why did the Illinois Supreme Court rule that DFS contests are not gambling?

This decision is the culmination of a civil lawsuit that Colin Dew-Becker filed in 2016. In April of that year, Dew-Becker lost $109 by losing an NBA DFS contest on FanDuel. Dew-Becker alleged that DFS contests are gambling and that the IL Loss Recovery Act of 1819 entitles him to recover his losses.

Last Thursday, IL’s highest court disagreed with him. Five of the six justices supported the majority opinion that DFS games do not fit the state’s definition of gambling because they are games of skill, not chance.

Because the contest is not gambling, the Loss Recovery Act does not apply. While Dew-Becker could technically try to take civil action in a federal court now, that may prove to be even more of an uphill climb.

Dew-Becker would have to not only substantiate the harm done to him according to federal law but also show that the federal court is the appropriate venue for his complaint. Given the fact that individual states, not the federal government, regulate gambling for the most part that is a tall order.

At this point, Dew-Becker’s quest to get his $109 back is likely over. The most interesting part of the ruling, however, has nothing to do with DFS. It could have great significance if IL ever wants to expand gambling further.

How this ruling could affect further legal gambling expansion in IL

One concept in this ruling is the fact that such contests take place online makes no difference in whether the state considers it gambling. Narrowly applied to just this complaint, that means the state sees DFS contests conducted online as indistinguishable from the same done with no online component.

Rather, the fact that the state considers them games of skill is the crucial matter. Because of that, DFS is not gambling in the eyes of the state. That concept could play an important role if momentum ever builds in IL for legal online casinos.

Should such a time ever arrive, the Illinois Legislature would have to act. Whether that’s repealing some of the current language in the state code or altering it, that would be the only way to allow legal online slots and table games in the state.

That was likely the prescribed route in such a scenario anyway. This decision by the Illinois Supreme Court makes it clear that the Illinois Gaming Commission couldn’t simply authorize such activity without a mandate from state law, however.

Dew-Becker just wanted his $109 back. In the course of seeking that relief, he prompted the state’s highest court to extend a ruling that may have implications in the future. While it may be years before it happens, it will require legislative action to bring online casinos to the Prairie State.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Kansas City, Mo. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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