If you’re reading this, odds are good that you had no idea who this was until Monday morning when news broke that Roper-Tolbert, a former contestant on “The Bachelor,” won the $1 million DraftKings Millionaire Maker contest this past Wild Card Weekend.
Playing under the name ‘jaderoper,’ Roper-Tolbert submitted the maximum number of lineups into the contest — 150 — while her husband, Tanner Tolbert, submitted 150, too.
The seemingly out-of-nowhere win, which appeared to be a positive story for the industry at first, came under suspicion quickly, with Twitter DFS devotees forging a trail of evidence that alleged collusion between husband and wife. The assertion was that Tanner Tolbert violated DraftKings’ terms of service by building all 300 entries himself, thereby circumventing the maximum entry limit.
As amateur sleuths mined the 300 lineups the couples put together, it became clear that collusion was, at face value, highly likely.
By the end of the day, DraftKings released a statement saying they “take the integrity and fairness of our contests very seriously and are looking into this matter.” Additionally, they deleted earlier tweets that congratulated Roper-Tolbert.
The fiasco leaves us wondering:
- What will happen on the regulatory side as it pertains to DraftKings’ own terms of service, which strictly prohibit the type of teamwork apparently exhibited between Tanner and Jade?
- Furthermore, how will this affect the DFS participation of the average consumer?
Will DraftKings stay true to its rulebook?
At the heart of the controversy is DraftKings’ terms of service, which includes in its list of unacceptable behaviors, “team-building complementary lineups which serve to work together AND executing a strategy that may create any unfair advantage over individual play.”
The company’s terms of service go on to say that they have the right to forfeit a winner’s prize money if they believe the contestant colluded with other players.
“The Company, at its sole discretion, may disqualify any entrant from a Contest, refuse to award benefits or prizes and require the return of any prizes, if the entrant engages in conduct or otherwise utilizes any information the Company deems to be improper, unfair or otherwise adverse to the operation of the Contest or is in any way detrimental to other entrants,” their fine print says.
As of Tuesday morning, we’re left waiting to see which course of action DraftKings takes.
The ‘papagates’ precedent
There are two overarching factors at play here.
- First, will DraftKings enforce its own rules?
- And, second, what would motivate them not to?
This developing, headline-busting controversy took many of us back to 2016 when DraftKings user ‘papagates’ took home a $1 million prize from the Week 3 Fantasy Football Millionaire. But rather than allegedly colluding with his spouse, he came under scrutiny for having no lineup overlap with his brother ‘chipotleaddict.’
The brothers were among the best DFS players in the country and the DFS community-at-large was highly skeptical of the win. The probability of not having a single overlapping lineup out of a combined 300 lineups was unlikely.
That October, DraftKings cleared papagates of any wrongdoing. The prize was his, despite DraftKings head of compliance Jennifer Aguiar telling the Wall Street Journal that their internal security system flagged the brothers’ lineups before any accusations arose.
Based on precedent, it seems unlikely that Roper-Tolbert will have to forfeit her winnings for a ToS violation.
Quelling the DFS firestorm could ignite a different one
To make matters more interesting, the couple’s spokesperson released a statement from the couple in which Tanner and Jade seem poised to make any punishment a gender issue.
“Though we must ponder, would the questions, accusations and curiosity about this win be the same if the winner had been male and someone who wasn’t already in the public eye,” the couple asked. “It is incredibly important for us to establish that Jade’s win is nothing more than pure luck and we are confident that Draft Kings will determine the same.”
If DraftKings decides to buck its own precedent and declare Roper-Tolbert’s lineup ineligible, the company may have a bigger fight on its hands.
To the casual players, is it worth it?
It’s widely known in the industry that the dubious “1 percenter” trope is alive and well in DFS. A very small percentage of users win more than 90% of the prize pools.
That some players are more skilled than others is a given in any sport or contest; DFS has its share of world-class competitors. The average player is already against long odds when they set a lineup in a massive contest like the Millionaire Maker.
Those odds of winning become even smaller, though, when top players—or at least wealthier ones—can leverage 150 lineups at $20 a pop, then avoid any forfeiture of prize money because they know the DraftKings precedent is light on punishment and heavy on the benefit of doubt.
What would seemingly be such an easy judgment to a regular DFS player becomes clouded when those investigating the case cannot present proof of collusion.
Did Tolbert-Roper and her husband discuss their lineups before submitting? Possibly. But in a realm of games in which the numbers rarely lie, the evidence screams that someone may not be telling the truth.