Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) has exploded in popularity over the past five to 10 years, becoming one of the most popular types of sports betting there is. In fact, DFS may be one of the reasons for the New Jersey sports betting and Pennsylvania sports betting explosion in the US, especially for online sports betting.
On ever-growing platforms like FanDuel Sportsbook and DraftKings Sportsbook, DFS is a dynamic, welcome addition to the legal sports betting space. It takes the traditional season-long fantasy sports concept and shrinks the time frame into a single day. Instead of waiting for an entire season to crown a league winner, fantasy enthusiasts can participate in a game, collect their winnings, and move on to another league (or slate of games) within 24 hours or less! And that’s where DFS sites come in.
This article was written by Spencer Limbach, who has covered sports betting and daily fantasy sports since 2011. His work has been featured on Rotoworld, Yahoo Sports, FanDuel, RotoWire, and FantasyLabs as well as newsstands across the nation. You can follow Spencer at @Spencer_JL.
Making sports betting picks on Daily Fantasy Sports can be compared to day trading on the stock market in some respects, except you are backing athlete performance instead of owning shares in a company. An ordinary stock trading strategy revolves around buying a company stock and holding onto it for several months. That’s season-long fantasy sports for the sake of this analogy. Day trading in the stock market happens when the purchase and sale of the same stock occur in one day. That’s daily fantasy sports in this example, and a specific approach is required to excel in such an abbreviated platform.
This comprehensive guide will outline how and where to play daily fantasy sports on top of introducing some tried-and-true strategies for regularly climbing the DFS leaderboard.
Yes. But while it is prevalent in many states, Daily Fantasy Sports is not legal in every state. Some territories have established laws surrounding DFS to regulate and license activity. Other states have not weighed in on the matter, and DFS providers continue to operate as a result. There are some states, however, with no DFS activity at all. Daily Fantasy Sports is not conducted in the following states:
It will be interesting to see if any of those states shift their attitudes (and subsequent law) as sports betting becomes more popular. Some of those aforementioned states are pro-gaming but don’t have a place for DFS within their current framework. For example, Montana legalized sports betting in 2019, but all contests must run through the state lottery. That leaves no room for third-party DFS operators. Meanwhile, Nevada requires a gambling license (similar to physical casinos) for daily fantasy providers to serve, and none are currently partaking in that market as a result.
There are several daily fantasy sites to choose from, and BonusSeeker has ranked the best DFS sites. The market is dominated by a pair of giants in FanDuel and DraftKings, who easily serve as industry leaders.
When starting out, taking part in DFS games can seem intimidating, but that’s only until you get the hang of it. It is recommended to start with some free contests before taking the plunge into cash-backed entries. The following sections will help you identify which contests to enter while offering some useful strategy pointers while examining the different types of DFS games.
The different types of DFS games can be broken into two main categories:
Cash games consist of head-to-head matchups and 50/50 style contests. The head-to-head games are straightforward, as your entry will battle against a single opponent. The winner will double their entry fee while subtracting a commission fee (otherwise known as 'rake') that goes to the DFS operator. For example, when entering a $10 head-to-head contest on FanDuel, the participant who scored more fantasy points at the end of the slate duration will earn $18 for an $8 profit. The other $2 can be considered the 'rake', which will be discussed in detail later.
Double-up and 50/50 style contests are other forms of cash games where the top half of entries receive a flat prize and the bottom half gets nothing. For example, a $10 contest of the 50/50 style with 100 entrants would look like this: the 50 highest scores would receive $18 each with first place earning the same amount as 50th place. Scores ranked 51-100 don’t earn anything. In other words, you only need an above-average lineup to double your money (minus the rake).
Large Field Tournaments can also be known as Guaranteed Prize Pools or 'GPPs'. They usually consist of hundreds or thousands of entries while carrying a top-heavy payout structure. That is, the top 20 percent of entries receive cash that is staggered from the first place grand prize downward. These contest are much riskier than cash games, but the payouts can be substantial for those toward the top of the leaderboard. That especially holds true in tournaments with tens of thousands (sometimes over 100,000) entries.
An important designation with large field tournaments revolves around how many entries one user is allowed to submit. There are single-entry tournaments and multi-entrytournaments, where the latter can enable a user to place upwards of 100-200 lineups in a specific contest. We’ll examine this in further detail with the strategy section, but take notice that participants who enter a handful or fewer teams into multi-entry contests can be at a disadvantage.
There are many sports you can play when it comes to DFS. Here are some sports options available to players:
The term 'rake' refers to the commission that daily fantasy operators take from contest prize pools. An example was posted in the previous section, referring to a $10 head-to-head match. In that situation, both participants pay $10 in entry fees with the total prize pool checking in at $18. The DFS site has taken a $2 rake or 20 percent from that viewpoint.
A rake of 20% is standard around the industry, but it can fluctuate from contest to contest, especially in large tournaments or qualifiers.
The rake usually dwindles as entry fees get higher. For example, the rake on a $25 head-to-head is $5 or 10 percent. A $1,065 head-to-head contest has a rake of $130 or 6.5 percent and so on.
Building a daily fantasy lineup is a simple endeavor on the surface, but plenty of research goes into selecting players to give your squad the best chance to move up the leaderboard.
For standard games, DFS sites use a salary cap format while obligating you to pick from predetermined positions. For example, FanDuel uses a $35,000 team budget when making MLB DFS picks. From here, you'll need to select the following positions:
By having a salary cap, you won't be able to load up on the best players of every position, as they’ll likely carry inflated price tags in proportion with their ability and recent performance. Balancing well-aligned top dollar studs with strategic bargain-priced players will help you stay under the allotted salary threshold. This holds true for all sports offered such as NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, PGA, EPL, WNBA, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, NASCAR, and eSports.
As mentioned earlier, cash games have less risk that comes with a lower overall reward. For this reason, it makes sense to play it safe with an optimized lineup of the best fantasy commodities of the night regardless of popularity. After all, your goal here is to post lineups that regularly score in the top half of entries. You don’t want to take unnecessary risks while trying to accomplish this, so a straightforward approach can be deployed without overly worrying about the ownership rate of selected players.
Large field tournaments should be treated somewhat differently than cash games. When battling against thousands of entries for the top spot (or at least the top 20 percent), you'll need to take advantage of leverage opportunities to set yourself apart from the crowd. In other words, considering the potential ownership rates of players and then taking the unbeaten path could pay dividends.
Consider this situational example:
It’s the middle of the NFL season, and Patrick Mahomes has been posting some monster numbers in recent weeks. He has a strong matchup against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. While he’s a strong cash game fixture (where we aren’t as concerned with ownership rate), there’s some merit in choosing a less popular option (maybe with a shorter salary too) in large tournaments. In that situation, you have a chance to leapfrog a large percentage of teams if Mahomes doesn’t live up to expectations. If that happens, the reward of going against the grain will be much greater than the implied risk of not selecting the most popular quarterback.
Being able to pinpoint player ownership rates while understanding game theory behind these contests can really boost your GPP strategy. It’s a skill derived from repetition while paying attention to winning lineup combinations in former contests.
A combination of well-aligned popular players mixed with some sneaky-good, low-owned sleepers usually makes for the best strategy in large tournaments. The more entries in a contest, the sneakier your selections will likely need to be.
If you are only entering one lineup into a tournament, consider screening for contests that only allow one entry per user. Most DFS sites let you filter for these “single entry” contests, as briefly mentioned earlier. This way you are on a level playing field compared to multi-entry tournaments where one user can account for hundreds of situations with different lineup combinations.
As noted above, different DFS contests and league orientations require different strategies. You’ll need to find your strengths and overall playing style within that. Do you take a conservative, risk-averse approach to daily fantasy sports? If so, it makes sense to frequent cash games in the beginning. Are you not afraid to take chances with your lineup (and bankroll) to seek maximum profits? In that case, working your way into large field tournaments could be of interest.