The daily fantasy sports (DFS) landscape continues to evolve since its emergence in 2007. There are more than 6 million registered users on major DFS operators FanDuel and DraftKings as of June 2019, with that number growing all the time.
The contest types have also expanded well beyond what was initially cash games and guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments.
Once requiring multiple games within a sport, contests run for single-game slates such as Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Baseball or single rounds of golf tournaments.
Best daily fantasy sports sites
Some sites are geared more toward casual users while others cater to the more competitive, experienced players, and those with larger bankrolls.
Pick the one that suits your playing style.
- DraftKings has generally been the first DFS site to experiment and roll out contests for new sports. DraftKings first ran the fantasy football Millionaire Maker as the biggest tournament at the time. It is still one of the most popular and is attractive to new users and veterans alike. They also run the widest variety of cash games, with 50/50 tournaments, head-to-heads, multipliers and private leagues.
- FanDuel has always found ways to differentiate and lead the movement toward single-game contests. They were also the first to create separate contests for beginners, making it easier and more appealing to get involved later in the DFS game. FanDuel also indicates how experienced and successful a user is by making it easier to target or avoid them.
- PrizePicks asks users to pick a team of two to four players and set an over/under line for their projected fantasy scores. Prizes are doled out depending on how many players in the lineup top that number.
What is daily fantasy sports?
Once requiring sports fans to check the box scores of the newspaper, fantasy sports managers can now play contests for just a single primetime sporting event with live-scoring built into the platform and updating in real-time.
Gone are the season-long commitments where managers must stand by a roster depleted by injury. Single-week, single-day or single-game contests allow for fresh starts. Prizes are paid out shortly after the game’s end.
DFS sites make it easy to get started and participate in contests against similar competition.
New users have access to a wide array of beginner-only contests where they can avoid the sharks. These come with smaller player pools, lower entry fees and entry limits, but the prize pools are considerably smaller.
As a new user, you should try to maximize your bonus offerings.
Sign up for sites matching deposits or providing a one-time cash boost to get the most out of your registration. You should seek out freeroll contests that don’t require an entry fee but still offer prizes or tickets into more significant contests.
DFS vs. sports betting
While DFS isn’t considered gambling by the sites themselves, the topic has been a significant point of contention in the legalization process. The parallels are undeniable in many ways, and the two often work together.
The sport that best illustrates this correlation is golf.
Sports bettors generally pick one or more golfers from a field of approximately 156 to win the tournament. Sportsbooks price each golfer based on their perceived odds of winning.
In DFS, golfers are priced according to their expected scoring and finishing position.
In any sport, it’s often a good idea to compare fantasy salaries and the betting odds. In team sports such as the NFL, a given team’s odds of winning a specific game, and by how much they’re expected to win or lose, can be a useful tool in assessing the fantasy value of players on that team.
For example, if a football team is given a spread of +13.5 in a game with a projected total of 56.5, that team’s running back(s) are unlikely to have a good fantasy day.
The underdog team would be expected to be trailing by large amounts for much of the game, thereby forcing them to throw the ball often. Fantasy managers should be looking at the team’s quarterback and top receivers.
The main difference between DFS and sports betting lies in the roster construction. In DFS, fantasy managers are evaluating players based on their expected performance in a given matchup and pitting similarly priced players against each other.
Sports bettors are generally picking one of two possible outcomes for any given event. In assembling a lineup of fantasy players, it’s not unlike a multi-game betting parlay with each player needing to have their best possible game to place well in a GPP.
How to play daily fantasy Sports
In addition to the types of daily fantasy sports available, the number of ways how those games can be played has also grown substantially.
Pick ’ems, tiers (similar to fantasy box pools), or showdowns (common for single-game slates where the key differentiator is picking which player in a lineup gets a multiplier bonus at a higher salary) have joined GPPs and cash games at most DFS sites.
Beginner-only contests are available to new users for a certain amount of time or a specified number of introductory contests.
Most sites also allow players to create contests where they can choose the sport, date, contest type and entry fee. These leagues can be held privately among friends or opened up to the public.
A whole industry has developed around third-party advice and picks. Many of these sites are subscription-based, where subscribers gain access to things such as lineup generators, lineup optimizers and ownership projections.
A key to DFS research is ranking players based on their salaries relative to their expected fantasy production.
A player outscoring their salary to the nth factor is much more important than the raw number of points.
Which sports can you play DFS?
If you can think of it, it’s likely available somewhere or on the way in the near future. Once you’ve found your site and sport of choice, explore the different contest types and make sure you know the scoring and lineup rules.
Just like in season-long fantasy, DFS revolves around the NFL.
The largest contests with the biggest prizes are set up from September through the Super Bowl for slates ranging from Thursdays through Monday Night Football, all day Sunday, 1 p.m. only, afternoon only or for only the standalone primetime games.
All sites run some form of points-per-reception (PPR) scoring, emphasizing receivers and pass-catching running backs. Bonuses are awarded for certain yardage totals, multiple scores or multiple catches.
Always stay on top of weekly injury updates and team depth charts. After all, even minor changes there can affect the player value as prices are typically released early Monday morning.
But beware; the cheaper the player and the larger his role, the higher the ownership is likely to be. Fantasy managers must always be conscious of projected ownership.
In large tournaments with 100,000-plus entries and only the top 10%-20% of entries winning money, you always want the player who does the best while being on the fewest rosters.
For example, if the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scores 30 fantasy points but is on 25% of rosters in a plush matchup against the Miami Dolphins, he’s only putting those rosters above the 75% that don’t have him, even if he’s the slate’s highest-scoring QB.
Conversely, if the Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick puts up a similar fantasy total while on 2% of rosters in a much tougher matchup against the Patriots, then those fantasy managers have the advantage over 98% of the competition.
Usage in the NBA has a more substantial impact on fantasy production than in other sports. Inconveniently, NBA lineups are also the most prone to major changes at the last second.
Playing daily fantasy basketball requires fantasy managers to be glued to their computers (or mobile devices) prior to lineup-lock.
Get on Twitter and follow beat reporters to know which players are likely to sit out for “load management.”
DFS salaries rise and fall based on how many minutes a player averages. A player who goes from five minutes per game to 25 on any given night will be available at a near-basement salary and is almost sure to outperform that salary by five to 10 times.
Scoring works much the same as in season long with points, assists, rebounds, steals and 3-pointers accumulating points. Turnovers deduct points. Bonuses are awarded for double- and triple-doubles.
Again, ownership is key.
Take a chance on a player who has been struggling with his shot, or is playing through a minor injury, or faces a one-on-one matchup against an excellent defender.
But the most important thing, in an almost direct correlation to success, is a player’s expected court time.
Just like in sports betting, MLB DFS is among the least predictable sports.
It’s the sport best left for cash games, as differentiating a tournament roster requires taking chances on players amid prolonged batting slumps or hitting at the bottom of the order against a top-tier starting pitcher.
The most significant difference between sites is whether rosters will use one or two starters. Pitching usage is also among the biggest strategy differences. Do you want to load up on the slate’s top options, or risk it with a couple of shaky hurlers who have been getting pulled quickly of late?
Pitcher scoring rewards innings completed, outs, strikeouts, wins, complete games, shutouts and no-hitters. Points are lost for hits, walks, hit batters and runs allowed.
Batters get points for walks and hits, with points increasing for doubles, triples and home runs. Stolen bases, runs, RBI and being hit by a pitch also reward fantasy managers.
How to play DFS for free and real money
Once you’ve selected a DFS site to join, you’ll need to give the site access to your location. That way, the site knows you’re in a region where it’s operational.
Then, create your account with a display name of your choosing, being careful not to give away any pertinent personal info.
Make sure to check if you’re eligible for any deposit bonuses. You will likely be a first-time registrant on a site, regardless of whether you’ve already joined another site.
Know your boundaries and make sure you’re depositing no more than you’re willing to lose. Most major credit cards are accepted, automatic bank transfers can be set up, or third parties such as PayPal can be used to deposit and withdraw.
If you’re just getting started, be sure to search for freerolls that offer prizes without entry fees. Also, look for free, prize-less contests to get your feet wet while you get accustomed to scoring and roster construction.
Once you’re ready, move into real-money contests.
Sites allow you to search contests based on entry fees and prize amounts. As a general rule, you should never spend more than 10% of your bankroll on one slate of games. Of that 10%, 90% should be invested in cash games, with only 10% put into the higher-risk GPPs.
How to win at daily fantasy sports
- Research: There’s an endless amount of articles, YouTube videos and podcasts available for general DFS tips, as well as advice devoted to every specific contest or slate you can imagine. Take in as much info as you can before submitting a lineup.
- Maximize Your Bonus: Sites will give you free money to get started in DFS. Take advantage of this and don’t start playing with your own cash until the well goes dry.
- Know the Contest You’re Entering: Even within the same DFS site, various contests have different rules for the payout structure, scoring and lineup configuration. Don’t just blindly submit a lineup thinking the same rules apply as your last contest.
- Focus on Cash Games: They may not be as exciting, and you may not become instantly rich and famous, but they’re the best way to ensure you can keep playing and turn some measure of profit.
- Stay Within Your Level: The higher the entry fee and the higher the prize pool, the stiffer the competition. If you’re a beginner, work your way through the beginner tournaments as you gain experience and build your bankroll. Once you’ve graduated from there, single-entry tourneys provide the best chance. Not everyone can afford the money or time of 150 different lineups, so keep yourself on an even playing field.
Is DFS legal in the US?
In most states, yes. When attempting to sign up, operating sites will request access to your location to know if you’re in a green-lit region.
Which states is it legal to play DFS?
As of October, DFS is now widely running in all states except Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and Washington state. However, it is considered to be illegal in only Arizona, Washington state and Montana.
How does DFS differ from sports betting?
DFS has long been advertised and promoted as a “skill game,” whereas sports betting is more based on chance. It’s based on competition against other users rather than just a chance-based result of a real-life game.
How do I start sports betting if I’m good at DFS?
Is there a DFS championship?
Yes, you can compete all season long through various stages of qualifying, divisional and championship events. Live finals are held for a specific contest slate near the end of the sporting season.
What are the best DFS games?
GPP tournaments offer the biggest prizes and greatest excitement; however, they are incredibly difficult to win while competing against thousands of other entries. Cash games are the best way to compete against friends or smaller public pools with a significantly higher chance of winning a smaller amount.
How many people play DFS?
There are more than 6 million registered users on FanDuel and DraftKings combined.
How do I get DFS data?
All DFS operators track scoring automatically with nearly instant updates to what’s happening in the actual game. Sites, such as Roto Tracker, exist to help users monitor their results and success. There is an entire industry built on offering advice and lineups.
Can I play free DFS?
Yes, all sites allow you to compete for free. Some even run freeroll tournaments that don’t require an entry fee but still offer monetary prizes.
Is DFS gambling?
Not technically. DFS is viewed as a “skill game,” wherein you can gain an edge by researching, monitoring news and picking the right contests to enter.
What is the best DFS app?
Most of the main DFS sites run apps for iPhone and Android devices. All have slight variations with user preference deciding which may be best. The DraftKings app is considered to be the most responsive and up to date.
How hard is DFS?
DFS is as hard as you want to make it. By sticking to cash games such as head-to-heads or 50/50s, there’s usually a 50% chance of turning a profit. By playing tournaments, you’ll be going up against thousands of users who may have more experience and larger bankrolls, making it extremely challenging to turn a profit consistently.
Do I need to pay taxes?
Similarly to gambling, if you collect more than $600 in winnings over the course of a single tax year, you’ll need to file a 1099 tax form, which you can obtain from your DFS provider.
Can I play DFS on my iPhone?
Absolutely. Search the Apple App Store for the DFS site of your choice, and you’ll more than likely find an app. Download, login as you would on your computer and start submitting lineups from your mobile device.