The General Assembly having voted this year to legalize and tax fantasy sports gambling in Tennessee, Louie Lobbyist advised in a recently distributed email that he is seeking investors for an “innovative new startup venture” called Fantasy Legislature. So I gave him a call.
Louie explained that he is creating a database with statistics on each legislator’s inclinations, effectiveness, voting record, fundraising ability and so on — just like with players in a fantasy football lineup. Players of Fantasy Legislature will take on the role of fantasy lobbyists, trying to use their influence to decide the outcome of a given game scenario.
“That means that skill will be involved, not just random chance, so it’ll be perfectly legal, just as Herbert Slatery requires,” said Louie, referring to a recent attorney general’s opinion indicating — well, more or less — that fantasy sports gambling would have been deemed unlawful under prior state law, but is OK now that the Legislature has approved.
Under a working draft, Louie says, the initial series of fantasy legislative games is set in early 2018, when Donald Trump, shortly after inauguration as president, has named Bob Corker as U.S. secretary of state. Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed himself as U.S. senator to fill the vacancy created by Corker’s departure and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has succeeded Haslam as governor. That has created a vacancy for the post of lieutenant governor.
Game 1, the Senate speaker scenario: Players are trying to help their favorite senator line up the votes to succeed McNally as speaker and bet on the outcome. There are four teams contending: One representing Mark Norris, another Jack Johnson, a third Bo Watson and the fourth an unidentified “mystery candidate.” Each player gets $100,000 in fantasy PAC money to allocate in helping his/her favorite win support. Each senator has a stated point value, awarded the player when that senator’s commitment is declared or taken away when the senator changes his/her mind. To influence each senator’s vote, each player can start rumors — i.e. Mike Bell is the mystery candidate or, no, it’s Ron Ramsey, who will return to take control with support of the six Democratic senators.
Game 2, the fiscal crisis scenario: In this fantasy, the Tennessee Supreme Court — members having pledged for years to never, ever overturn anything the Legislature enacts under any circumstances — suddenly and inexplicably decides in favor of plaintiff school systems that public schools are inadequately funded in a ruling that would require almost $1 billion in new education money from state government. The national economy, meanwhile, has taken a downturn and sales tax collections have plummeted. The court does, of course, defer to the Legislature on how to come up with the money.
At the outset, players are presented with three options in the form of bills filed by legislators, each with several co-sponsors: Reactivate the Hall tax on investment income and increase the rate; raise the gas tax and allocate a portion of the 50 cents per gallon increase to education; impeach members of the Supreme Court and defy the ruling while cutting the court system budget in half, allocating savings to education. The players have the task of fashioning a compromise that can get 17 votes in the Senate and 50 in the House while avoiding any new taxes or state spending cuts that could affect a mythical client.
I questioned whether there would be a market for such silliness, given that legislative doings don’t attract anywhere near the interest generated by sports events.
“Well, it is a niche audience,” Louie conceded. “But there are hundreds of lobbyists, just here in Tennessee. And this could go national, where there are thousands and thousands. Not to mention, legislators and political junkies such as yourself. We’re working on a model for Washington, D.C., and Congress. And this can be adapted to any state.”
Asked the cost of investing in Fantasy Legislature, a figure was quoted way outside the budget ballpark of a semi-retired old guy. The cost of playing, however, could be as little as $50 — and Louie says that could be deductible as a business expense on federal income taxes.
By the way, another game scenario involves lobbying for a state business incentive grant to help fund the launch of Fantasy Legislature.