December 12th, 2009

Fidelity Fires Four — Can’t Tell Fantasy from Gambling

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I would have to assume that the leadership of the Westlake, Texas, Fidelity Investments office is well-versed in financial law. It obviously, however, has never read the UIGEA.

If the rulemakers there had, they wouldn’t have fired four employees on Friday for running fantasy football leagues. Observe …

“We have clear policies that relate to gambling,” Fidelity spokesman Vin Loporchio reportedly told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Participation in any form of gambling through the use of Fidelity time or equipment or any other company resource is prohibited. In addition to being illegal in a lot of places, it can also be disruptive. We want our employees to be focused on our customers and clients.”

That’s fine. The trouble is, fantasy sports aren’t gambling. The American government has said so.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, Section 132.2(c)(5)(ix):

Participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization (as those terms are defined in 28 U.S.C. 3701) and that meets the following conditions:

(A) All Prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.

(B) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.

(C) No winning outcome is based-

(1) On the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams, or

(2) Solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.

Legalese aside, frankly, the firings appear to have been a pretty classless act. Granted, we have just one report on which to go so far, but the spurned employee specifically mentioned apparently wasn’t even spending company time on his hobby. He got two football-related instant messages at work.

“One of my buddies sent me something about how bad Trent Edwards was playing or something like that,” Cameron Pettigrew reportedly told the Star-Telegram. “So they called me in and talked to me for about 90 minutes on everything I ever knew about fantasy football. They interrogated me as though I was some sort of international gambling kingpin. Then they released me for the day, and I was like, ‘OK.’ I never thought they’d fire me for this, but, the next day, I get the call saying I had been terminated.”

Pettigrew said he never received a warning prior to the action, and that the company had only vague rules about playing fantasy sports, which he says were basically ignored by managers.

The fact that three others were dismissed at the same time for apparently the same offense would seem to indicate that Pettigrew isn’t hiding any skeletons. The fact that Fidelity’s official statement only mentioned the company’s flawed “gambling” assessment and didn’t bother trying to explain patterns of internet usage or text-messaging that interrupted work time also supports Pettigrew’s claims.

If all of this is true, Fidelity seems wide open to lawsuits from these four employees. Further, what’s it to do with other workers found to run or participate in fantasy leagues? Do they believe they’ve snuffed out a “problem” with this action? As our own Jeff Thomas opines, does the company believe that its campuses have been devoid of NCAA tournament pools?

It’s obvious by the name of our site where we stand on the fantasy hobby itself. It’s a harmless activity that can actually grow camaraderie among your workforce and potentially even between employees and customers. Whether you want to attribute the terminations to corporate over-management or mismanagement, or even just plain ignorance, it will be interesting to see what consequences Fidelity may discover. has learned that the Fantasy Sports Trade Association will release a statement on this topic in the coming days, which we will share with you once it becomes available.

(More reaction: ‘Ridiculous’ Decision Could Harm Fidelity)


‘Ridiculous’ Decision Could Harm Fidelity

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

Jeffrey Thomas, CEO of World Fantasy Games (owner of, is a 17-year veteran of the fantasy sports industry. Here’s what he had to say about Fidelity firing four employees for running fantasy football leagues:

This situation and decision by Fidelity is ridiculous on many levels. I think the executives that made the call should be personally terminated for creating a huge future lawsuit risk for Fidelity itself, for very poor research and very poor decision-making.

First, playing in a fantasy sports league is not gambling. Most of the time there is no money involved at all, so it can’t be gambling. And other times, leagues only pay a fee for software services to operate the league.

Second, if they had a fun $20 side pool between league members, this is personal and not managed by a fantasy company. Fantasy football is not gambling when it is managed by experienced, compliant companies in our industry. Could these individuals have been gambling by wagering $20 between friends? What’s your call? I hope nobody, in this company of thousands of employees, filled out a March Madness pool last year and I hope nobody ever made a copy of a March Madness bracket on a company copy machine … and I hope nobody sent an email with a bracket attached to it or a link imbedded. And did they buy any squares at Super Bowl time? I’m sure e-mail archives from last February or March could shed light on this. For clarification to Fidelity and others … the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 states that money spent on fantasy sports is not a bet or a wager.

Third, the information published to date states that the individuals involved did not receive e-mails at work. A league member sent him an instant message? Did he read this while taking a restroom break, or was it during a strategic planning meeting? Does it matter? Reading a message from a friend is not playing fantasy football. Was he managing his team at work? Playing fantasy football is managing your team — starting players, benching players, watching live scoring, negotiating trades, studying free agent moves, etc. Sending an instant message is not playing fantasy football. He was communicating with a friend.

Fourth, on a similar note, did other employees receive texts that day from friends or family members? Did they use the phone for personal phone calls? What is the real issue here? Communication occurs every day between employees and friends while at the work place. It should be limited, but it’s not grounds for termination.

Fifth, the individual involved stated that several other company employees play in fantasy leagues. Why single out these four? For an instant message? Corporate hypocrisy at its best can get corporate decision-makers and their employer in a lot of trouble.

That’s my top five, but there are plenty of other issues with the terminations. Based on the incredibly ignorant termination decision, I hope the employees will be filing a significant lawsuit in the coming weeks.