By Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Fantasy sports have joined the real world of politics.

In a bid to protect its financial interests and expand into states that ban betting even on make-believe teams, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has hired its first federal lobbyist and launched a political action committee to make campaign contributions to lawmakers.

Fantasy sports leagues, which allow fans to create mock teams of real-life players that compete for statistical advantage over other fake franchises, “are a major part of the American sports scene,” says Travis McCoy, who registered to lobby on the association’s behalf in May. “We are trying to allow people to play their games and have a good time.”

McCoy, a former aide to House Speaker John Boehner, is also treasurer of the association’s newly formed PAC and an avid fantasy football, baseball, basketball and hockey player.

Fantasy sports are big business. It generated $1.9 billion in revenue in 2008, according to the most recent financial data compiled by the association. Last year, nearly one in five males 12 and older in the USA played fantasy sports, says Peter Schoenke, the association’s chairman and president of, a sports information site.

USA TODAY is among the companies represented on the association’s board.

U.S. sports fantasy sites drew 312 million visits last month with the start of the National Football League’s regular season, a 12% increase over September 2010, according to Matt Tatham of Experian Hitwise, which measures online activity.

A 2006 federal law that banned U.S. financial institutions from processing online gambling transactions specifically exempted fantasy sports leagues. Schoenke says most fantasy players don’t bet, but the federal law helped cement the industry’s legitimacy and spur growth.

The association now wants to guard against any other changes to federal law that could hurt business and grow more active in states. Nearly a dozen states have laws that either ban their residents from collecting winnings from online fantasy games or raise questions about the legality of the games, McCoy says.

In Louisiana, for instance, state Rep. Thomas Carmody last year pushed a measure that would have exempted fantasy games from a state anti-gambling provision. The Shreveport Republican says he decided to act after a childhood friend was barred from collecting his prize of a T-shirt from an online baseball fantasy game.

The measure, however, died 73-16 in the state’s House of Representatives after Louisiana Family Forum objected. Gene Mills, the Family Forum’s president, tells USA TODAY the bill amounted to “an expansion of gambling,” which he describes as “nothing but fool’s tax.”

Carmody says he has no plans to reintroduce his measure this year. “When something gets crushed like that legislation did, you don’t typically bring it up again,” he says.

McCoy says the group still is deciding which states it will target first. So far, the association’s federal political activity also is off to a very modest start.

It has reported spending only $6,000 this year on federal lobbying — a minuscule sum compared with the nearly $1 million the NFL and players’ union combined spent to lobby Congress and federal agencies during the first six months of this year.