April 15, 2011 was more than just Tax Day in the U.S. It was also the day the U.S. Department of Justice closed down - by seizing domains and freezing assets - the 3 largest online poker sites: PokerStars, Full Tilt and Absolute Poker. In some ways, that was the day daily fantasy sports was born.
FanDuel, the largest DFS site in the world with more than 1 million players, debuted in July 2009. But it wasn't until online poker's D-Day - also known as Black Friday - that daily fantasy truly took off. Today, the industry rakes in billions of dollars in player entry fees. A significant chunk is paid out to winners. FanDuel alone is expected to pay out more than $1 billion in 2015.
Daily fantasy sites like FanDuel and DraftKings have replaced the world's largest poker sites as the main attraction in the online gaming space. The good news is that there are a lot of similarities between them. If you enjoyed playing at PokerStars et al. during online poker's heyday, you'll feel right at home at FanDuel and DraftKings.
Below, we'll cover some of the ways in which daily fantasy and online poker are alike. I'll also highlight a few differences that point to DFS as the gaming opportunity with the greatest potential for years to come.
Daily Fantasy Vs. Online Poker: Legal Issues
Poker's D-Day was a long time in coming. The laws that set the stage in most states - Delaware, New Jersey and Nevada are the exceptions - were passed in 2006. PokerStars and its main competitors operated in a legal grey area until April 2011, at which point the DOJ seized the sites and froze their assets.
That demonstrates the single most important difference between daily fantasy and poker: DFS is legal. And its legality doesn't just spring from an omission in the 2006 laws. The laws specifically make an exception for daily fantasy, defining the contests as games of skill rather than gambling.
It's easy to dismiss the legal stuff when you're competing for cash prizes at FanDuel and DraftKings. But DFS's legal status is the reason you can play without facing the transactional problems you might have experienced at places like PokerStars prior to 2011.
Game Availability: Daily Opportunities To Cash
Before the DOJ went on its rampage, the titans of the poker space hosted thousands of games each day. You could always find a table. It didn't matter whether you wanted to play in a huge multi-table tournament, a small sit n' go or a 9-player shootout. You never had to wonder whether you'd find any action.
Today, the titans of the DFS space offer the same breadth of games. When you visit FanDuel's lobby, you'll see thousands of contests categorized by sport and format (tournaments, head-to-heads, etc.). Although they're based on sporting events scheduled for certain times of the day or evening, you can join them and build rosters around the clock.
In some cases, the contest formats themselves are similar. For example, FanDuel regularly hosts guaranteed prize pool (GPP) tournaments. They're like multi-table poker tournaments, both in field size - they're open to thousands of entrants - and payout structure (they're top-heavy).
Bottom line: you'll find that the leading DFS sites offer just as many opportunities to cash as the legacy poker sites used to.
User Experience: Finding Daily Fantasy Contests
One of the defining traits of PokerStars, Full Tilt and other big poker rooms was their ease of navigation. It was a simple matter to find the types of games you were interested in joining. You'd visit the lobby and use each site's filtering tools to narrow down your options. You could rank games by type (Texas Hold'em, Omaha, etc.), stakes, the number of players and other criteria.
FanDuel and DraftKings offer a very similar experience. Each site's lobby provides filtering tools that let you drill down by sport, contest format, field size, entry fee and prize pool.
One of the reasons both sites are growing so quickly is because they make it easy to find the exact type of contest you want to enter.
Deposits And Withdrawals: DFS Banking Options
Remember the legal issues we discussed above with regard to online poker rooms - namely, that federal legislation outlawed them? Those issues had a profound effect on the ability of those sites to process players' deposits and withdrawals.
If you used to frequent sites like Full Tilt or PokerStars, you might recall regularly having your deposits rejected. You may also recall having to use multiple credit cards in an attempt to fund your accounts. A lot of credit card companies, hoping to avoid trouble with the federal government, blocked the transactions. Putting money into your account could thus be a frustrating experience.
Playing daily fantasy is 100% legal. As a result, credit card companies have an incentive to process deposit transactions to sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. You can even use your Paypal account to transfer cash into your DFS accounts, a feature that was nearly unheard of in the online poker space.
And what about withdrawals? They're just as easy. You can withdraw your winnings at any time and have the proceeds sent to you via check or directly to your Paypal account.
The Daily Fantasy Boom Is Expected To Continue Unabated
Online poker has been out of the spotlight for years. While you can still play in a few states, the number of players has dwindled considerably since 2011.
By contrast, the DFS space continues to grow. It's already a multi-billion dollar industry and there doesn't seem to be a limit to its growth - at least, not in the near future. Each day, more people are discovering the advantages of competing in daily fantasy contests compared to the inconvenient, traditional, season-long leagues of yesteryear.
Fueling the growth in large part are stories of players who are not only making a living at daily fantasy, but taking down enormous prize pools...
Making A Living By Playing Daily Fantasy Sports
Last year, an article published on TheAtlantic.com mentioned DFS phenom Peter Jennings. A former poker player, Jennings became a stockbroker when the DOJ seized the big poker sites n 2011. He later decided to try his luck at daily fantasy sports. As reported in the article, "Jennings's choice has paid off. He has won FanDuel's $150,000 football championship prize, and just raked in $1 million at DraftKings' fantasy baseball championship in the Bahamas."
Another poker player named Max Steinberg has also collected huge winnings in daily fantasy sports. After having more than $100,000 of his personal funds frozen on Black Friday, Steinberg turned to FanDuel. According to Bloomberg.com, he made more than $300,000 from DFS in 2014.
Winning big doesn't necessarily require starting with a big bankroll. Personal trainer Scott Hanson joined FanDuel in 2014 with $35. He recently earned a $2 million payout after clinching the top spot in a large-field fantasy football tournament.
They're not the only ones making a ton of money at sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. For every huge winner, there are scores of players earning payouts of $50,000 or more. A lot of them are quitting their jobs and considering new careers in fantasy sports.
Now Is The Perfect Time To Play Daily Fantasy
To be clear, winning daily fantasy contests isn't easy. It takes time, savvy and a willingness to research players. It also takes discipline; generating a respectable income requires that you compete in numerous contests each week. But if you're willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to build winning lineups, you can do well.
Daily fantasy is only going to grow in the future. And with that growth will come ever-bigger prize pools and more opportunities to generate a significant profit. If you're not already registered at FanDuel and DraftKings, now's the time to create your accounts and stake your claim.
The daily fantasy sports boom, still in its infancy, shows no signs of slowing.