Unless you live under a rock that doesn’t grant you wifi access, you’ve probably heard of the phenomenon of daily fantasy sports gaming. It’s not a secret or new thing anymore. There’s a way for you to play daily fantasy sports now and make money doing it. DraftKings and FanDuel have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising during football games and football coverage to let you know that the dream is possible. You can make a living or win a big jackpot playing fantasy sports.
And it’s all BS.
It started off as a great idea a few years ago. The first time the average sports fan heard of daily fantasy sports, they were thinking to themselves, “Man, if only I’D had that idea! It’s worth millions in a billion dollar industry!” The fresh way to play captured hearts and imaginations. Coverage was all over the place on ESPN, HBO, and every major news outlet. It seemed great for everyone. And the only thing that made it a bigger story was the fact that it was technically skirting the rules on sports gambling to make it available nation-wide.
You can win money and it’s totally legal… sorta…
But I’m not here to argue the legality. I’m here to talk to you about why it’s a bad idea for you to play. Yes, I’m talking to you. Sure, you may have dreams about using your fantasy skills to get that sweet sweet paycheck you’ve always dreamed about. You can just make a living doing what you already do; spending time in front of your computer creating the perfect geographical triangle at your residence between the couch, bathroom, and the freezer with all the hot pockets. You continue to read all the fantasy sports articles, maybe listen to a few more podcasts, and you’re set for life. Heck, if you win one of those million dollar jackpots, you can finally buy that independent baseball team you’ve been eyeing just so you can finally give it a pop culture-relevant name so that you get a giggle every time you waltz into the owner’s box.
Who’s ready for some Rebel Alliance baseball!?
Sadly, it’s all a pipe dream. The reputation of daily fantasy sports sunk pretty quickly. It all started this offseason, people got really sick of seeing commercial after commercial for DraftKings and FanDuel, the two biggest companies in daily fantasy, clogging up the airwaves. It didn’t stop when the games started either. They got that they’d see them on ESPN, but during the NFL games too on CBS, Fox, and NBC? Is there no respite from such torture!? When will it all end!?
That was understandable, though. During the NFL season, networks will push shows so often that you’ll know exactly how the plot is progressing during the fall because you see the ads every week. This is how I was able to keep up with Glee for four seasons after I stopped watching it. In any case, those were the first rumblings.
The next blow came from somewhere unexpected: the reaction to Matthew Berry’s Love/Hate column. I’m a huge fan of the Talented Mr. Roto. I’ve been reading his ESPN column for years, I’ve tried many times to gain entry into the Fantasy Focus Football Podcast Man’s League, and I’m the proud owner of his book Fantasy Life. His Love/Hate is must-read. This year, he started including analysis for daily fantasy leagues, especially in the “hate” portion of his column because it’s the hardest part of his column to generate content. Did he really “hate” Andrew Luck against the Bills last week? Probably not as much as everyone should have given his dismal performance, but the stress was put on his price in DFS.
The Twitter reaction was resoundingly negative. While few criticisms specifically cited the DFS advice, it was the only notable difference between the Week 1 piece and every previous incarnation. Berry addressed the negative reaction on the podcast, but didn’t explore the reason for it.
Then, this past week, a deluge of articles emerged about how it’s a really bad idea for casual fans to participate in daily fantasy contests for money. It’s not the main point of the article, but it’s a pretty clear message. Kind of like how Blackwater wasn’t telling you not to go to Sea World. Yeah, you can still go, but you’re not going to be able to live with yourself watching a
tortured and abused majestic animal doing slave dances tricks for the amusement of it’s masters trainers.
The articles are reminiscent of a scene from one of my favorite movies: Rounders.
“You play fantasy football with a small group of buddies. Pay some money and you could win a treasure trove, bro!”
But that’s not how it really works. See, the best thing about gambling on games in Vegas (straight up, against the spread, prop bets, whatever) is that you’re playing against the house. The house sets the line and the payout, but enough expertise and some smart plays and you can make money. Most people don’t do their research and do dumb things like teases and parlays, which is why the house wins. But it can still be done on large and small scales. This is what DFS sites are selling you.
What they aren’t telling you is that not everyone has one entry. Some of the pros have thousands of entries every day. They’re also not telling you that the way to make big money is to gamble big money. According to the statistics, the rate of return for the best pros in the world is slim. The No. 1-rated DFS player in the world sees about an 8% return. He’s not making two million a year thanks to one lucky entry in a big tournament.
So you throw $100, maybe more, for one or two weekends of play. Maybe you win. Great! You beat the system! You’re officially one of those people that walks away winning money! But what DFS sites aren’t telling you is that the overwhelming statistics show that you’re just going to use your winnings to play more and then you’re just going to lose it right back.
You’re just more chum in a sea of zombie sharks. Why zombie sharks? Because these sharks don’t stop feeding. They don’t get full.
Full disclosure: Playmaker Magazine has done business with Rivalry Games and I am personal friends with the developers of the Rivalry Games app, which is a start-up DFS company.
I will say that Rivalry Games was different because it was a startup and was more transparent about tournament payouts, winners, and the number of challenges that any particular player (possible shark) was entering on top of the other fun things that made Rivalry Games stand out from the competition.
If you’re looking for something different, I would still encourage you to give it a try. The developers did consider the shark-minnow dynamic when developing the game. But if you insist on trying to make that dream happen over at DraftKings or FanDuel…
Caveat emptor, pal.
Matthew Berry addressed the DFS backlash to his Week 1 Love/Hate column in the intro to his Week 2 Love/Hate column.