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Pa. lawmakers tackle new sports betting regulations

Jason Cato

Even as Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to tackle regulations for daily fantasy sports betting, a new form of fantasy football wagering could eventually find a home in the Keystone State.

Las Vegas-based USFantasy Sports this weekend launched a fantasy football product that’s tied to NFL players but based on pari-mutuel betting, the pool style of wagering used for horse and dog races. That’s different from the model of assembling a fantasy “team” and trying to generate a collective “score” higher than other bettors’ teams.

Nevada officials last year banned daily fantasy sports, a multi-billion dollar industry led by companies FanDuel and DraftKings, because of regulation concerns and reports that less than 2 percent of players collect 99 percent of winnings. The Nevada Gaming Control Board in June approved the pari-mutuel model.

A Westmoreland County Republican plans to monitor how things go for USFantasy Sports. If successful, pari-mutuel fantasy football could be on the table here later this year, said Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, who serves on the House Gaming Oversight Committee.

“I’d be curious to see how it rolls out in Nevada. It’s like daily fantasy sports on steroids,” Dunbar said. “If the casinos want something like this, I am not opposed at all to it.”

USFantasy Sports did not respond to a request for comment as it prepared to open for business Friday.

Company officials, however, have said they were surprised to be the first to bring the idea to market but are confident it would draw action from bettors.

“All the ingredients are there for this to be a smashing success, no doubt,” Bob Kocienski, USFantasy Sports’ CEO, told Casino City Times recently. “Just think of it as a horse race, but we’re switching out the horses with professional athletes.”

Pari-mutuel is a French term that means “wagering among ourselves.” Final odds and winnings are determined by the amount wagered and on which entrants.

Like morning lines for various horse races, USFantasy Sports offers opening odds for a variety of “events” based on performances in NFL games. Those include which quarterbacks, running backs and receivers will garner the most yards passing, rushing and receiving.

People playing USFantasy Sports’ games can select individual players to win, place and show — or finish first, second or third. The amount wagered and where the player finishes in the rankings will determine the payout.

Exactas and trifectas are offered with higher payouts for selecting the outcome of two or three events in the correct order. Other exotic wagers common in horse racing also will be available, including Daily Doubles, Pick 3s and more for selecting winners of multiple events. A $1 million prize is available for people wagering $1 and correctly picking winners of seven events on a given day.

USFantasy Sports plans to expand into baseball, basketball, hockey, golf and other sports.

Company officials met with Dunbar in the spring to discuss their platform and how it could work in Pennsylvania.

Last year, Dunbar proposed regulating daily fantasy sports here by tying the industry to Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos. State law allows for two more. A gaming bill is pending approval in Harrisburg, though it doesn’t currently include the novel pari-mutuel model.

“Throwing that on the dog pile we are considering now would just confuse matters,” Dunbar said.

He said he plans to meet with Rep. John Payne, the Hershey Republican who chairs the House Gaming Oversight Committee. Part of their discussions will include USFantasy Sports’ betting model and how it might work in Pennsylvania.

One problem here could be that not all casinos can accept pari-mutuel wagers — just the six with horse-racing tracks and the off-track betting locations they operate. In Western Pennsylvania, that includes The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in Washington County and Presque Isle Downs & Casino in Erie, but not Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh or Lady Luck Casino at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Fayette County.

“That could certainly be an issue,” Dunbar said. “What benefits one may hurt another. That is a consideration.”

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].


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