Daily Fantasy Sports Logo and Athletes in Background

Fantasy sports have been around since the end of World War II. Back then, it was all done with paper and pencil. Leagues may have had a cash prize for the winner of the league, but for the most part, it was done for fun.

The internet allowed these leagues to go digital, starting with the first online fantasy hockey league in 1995 that was created by Molson Breweries.

Since then, thousands of fantasy sports sites have popped up. And you can play along in multiple sports, including:

  • Gridiron Football
  • Australian Rules Football
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Hockey
  • MMA
  • Boxing
  • Bowling
  • Cricket
  • Golf
  • Powerlifting
  • Professional Wrestling
  • Rugby League
  • Rugby Union
  • Soccer
  • Weightlifting

But these leagues, aside from a possible prize for finishing as the season’s champion, are mostly just for fun.

That’s where sportsbooks stepped in.

Sportsbooks wanted to capitalize on the explosion of the popularity of fantasy sports. They realized that a season was far too long to keep gamblers engaged and active in a betting venture. That’s why daily fantasy sports leagues were created.

What’s a Daily Fantasy Sports League?

Daily fantasy sports (DFS) takes the long-form season concept of the fantasy league and condenses it to a day or a week.

The concept started about a decade ago, but news stories and the sites offering DFS have raised awareness and the popularity of the leagues.

If you understand the concept of a fantasy sports league, then grasping the concept of the daily fantasy sports league is not that hard.

A season-long fantasy league sees scores of millions of people each year create fantasy rosters of real players and use their game stats to determine the points that each player “scores” during each fantasy game. Each active player for the game has their fantasy points totaled to determine the fantasy team’s score.

These scores are compared to the fantasy player’s opponent to determine who won the game.

This is the basis of how daily fantasy leagues work, except you are choosing players for a team that only lasts a day or a week (usually in the case of gridiron football).

Aside from the timeframe, another difference is that while a traditional fantasy league is usually played among a group of 10 or 12 friends or acquaintances, a DFS league can consist of millions of people.

And, of course, the biggest difference is the money involved. DFS players can play for prizes in the millions of dollars.

Another big difference is the time commitment. With a season-long league, you are expected to tinker with rosters each week. In a DFS league, you don’t have to invest that time. It’s essentially one and done.

Also, regular fantasy sports leagues may not have money values assigned to players. This is a big difference in DFS leagues.

Players are assigned cash values based on their performance, and you can “buy” them. The DFS league sets a salary cap for your team that you must stay below.

Terms to Understand

Daily fantasy sports, much like any industry, have developed their own jargon and terminology. A key to understanding the process of DFS betting is understanding the terms that are used in the industry so that you can make educated choices regarding your gameplay and betting moves.

Here are some of the common terms used in daily fantasy sports:

  • 50/50 – A league where all of the top 50% of players are paid equally
  • Action – Amount of money up for grabs in a particular league
  • Bankroll – The amount that a gambler has to wager in a fantasy sports league
  • Buy-in – The entry fee for a league
  • Cash game – These are contests where the winner is paid after a single contest or single week. They can consist of a head-to-head game, 50/50, or a double-up league
  • Ceiling – The highest actual or projected outcome of a statistic or score
  • Deposit bonus – A bonus a daily fantasy sports league offers for depositing money in your league account. This is usually offered as either a flat rate or a percentage
  • Dollars per point (abbreviated $/pt or $/point) – This is the estimated amount of money each point will cost you. The purpose of this is to determine the value of a player when drafting
  • Donk (Donkey) – A player who plays poorly and wastes money in the league
  • Double-up – In DFS, this type of game is where the entrant will win back double their buy-in. Most leagues require a finish in the top 40% of the league
  • Fade – Avoiding a certain player in a league because they’re either heavily owned by others or because they do not bring value to your team
  • Fish – A new DFS player
  • Flex – A player that can be used in multiple positions on your team
  • Floor – The worst possible projected outcome in a statistic or score
  • Freeroll – A league that is free to enter and pays cash prizes
  • GPP – Guaranteed prize pool
  • Grinder – A player who plays “safe” games in order to make a profit over time
  • Half-PPR – A fantasy football league that assigns 1/2 point per reception
  • Head-to-head – A one-on-one contest between two DFS players
  • Hedge – Method used by a player to reduce risk in a game
  • High stakes – A league with a high buy-in
  • Late swap – A rule that allows for player lineups to be revised up until the first game begins
  • Points per dollar (abbreviated pt/$ or point/$) – This is the estimated number of points every dollar will cost you. The purpose of this is to determine the value of a player when drafting
  • PPR – A fantasy football league that assigns one point per reception
  • Prop bet – A prop bet or proposition bet is a bet made on an aspect of the game that doesn’t affect the game’s outcome
  • Punt – The lowest minimum amount spent of a salary for a low-scoring position
  • Qualifier – A league that offers entry into a larger league or tournament as a prize
  • Rake – The commission the league takes from each entry fee
  • Rakeback – A perk offered to high-rollers that awards a portion of the rake back as more games are played
  • Return on investment (ROI) – The amount of profit made in relation to the money paid into a league
  • Shark – A veteran DFS player who is exceptionally skilled
  • Stacking – Creating a lineup with multiple players from the real-life team
  • Survivor tournament – A league that has a minimum cut-off score to advance to the next round of the tournament
  • Triple-up – In DFS, this type of game is where the entrant will win back triple their buy-in
  • Upside – Results in a matchup where a player outperforms his salary or the amount of a prize compared to the buy-in
  • Value – The points a player scores in comparison to his salary
  • Vegas line – The spread or odds set by major oddsmakers and sportsbooks
  • Viable – A player that is likely to perform well in relation to the price paid for him

50/50 Contests

I broached the subject of 50/50 contests in the terms you should know, but there’s more to them than just a simple definition.

A 50/50 contest is one in which half of the players win and half lose. The winners will usually double the buy-in, so, in essence, the losing half pays the winning half.

These leagues attract a lot of attention due to the higher payouts and great chances of winning.

But they do have drawbacks. The salary caps on these contests tend to run on the low side, so it requires a great balance of lower- and higher-cost players.

The edge in these types of leagues leans towards the more experienced DFS players.


This is the most common type of DFS league game. As the title notes, a head-to-head game is one where two players are pitted against each other.

In this type of game, you will select your roster, and another player will select his. The winner will be the one with the highest number of points at the end of the game.

The strategy in this type of contest is to load up rosters with high-scoring players (many times, a salary cap is not in place for these contests).

Compared to other types of leagues, this type traditionally pays significantly less than others.

Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP)

A GPP tournament is one where the sportsbook offers a set prize no matter how many players.

These tournaments are extremely possible due to the large amounts involved in the prize pool. Some prize pools will be in the seven-figure range.

The strategy in this type of league is balance.

These leagues almost always have salary caps, so you need to balance out the high-value players with lower-value ones.

And the ones chosen must perform at or better than the value you get them for.

Beginner Leagues

These leagues are made specifically for players new to the DFS sport that they’re playing. These are a great way to get your feet wet in the DFS arena.

Each site has different definitions of what a “beginner” is. Some are simply a person who has never played in a DFS league on that site before. Once you play, you’re no longer considered a beginner.

Others consider you a beginner until you win a prize on the site.

The benefits of these leagues are that you’re playing against players of similar skills (in most cases), and certain aspects of the league are changed to accommodate novice players. For instance, the salary cap may be as much as doubled from a standard game.

Also, the buy-ins on these leagues are usually less than a standard league.

Daily Fantasy Sports Offerings

Major DFS sites offer leagues and tournaments in the following areas:

  • Professional Gridiron Football (NFL and CFL)
  • Professional Basketball (NBA and Euroleague)
  • Professional Women’s Basketball (WNBA)
  • Professional Baseball (MLB)
  • Professional Hockey (NHL)
  • College Gridiron Football
  • College Basketball
  • Mixed Martial Arts
  • Tennis
  • Soccer
  • Golf
  • Esports
  • Rugby Union
  • Rugby League
  • Cricket

The offerings will vary depending on the site and where it’s based out of. For instance, a European site may have cricket and not have baseball, but a United States-based site may not offer cricket or rugby.

Are Daily Fantasy Sports Legal?

In most states, DFS leagues are legal. However, there are a few states where they’re not. The states where DFS leagues aren’t legal are:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • Washington

Most players in the United States will be able to participate in daily fantasy sports.

Despite the fact that state attorneys general have determined the illegality of DFS betting in their state, some operators have chosen to continue to operate within some of these states. In most cases, one or more DFS sites have filed lawsuits against the state because of the ambiguous nature of the laws they have in place.

The big question is whether DFS leagues are gambling under the law.

Because DFS mixes both chance and skill, some argue that playing in a DFS requires a good knowledge of the sport, the players, and how they perform in various circumstances. Also, with the salary cap, players must show skill in a balanced selection of players.

Those who believe it to be gambling argue that DFS is based on individual performances that can vary on a day-to-day basis and that they are betting on the performance of that player in a particular game instead of a team over a season.

Humphrey v. Viacom, Inc.

The first major case regarding any type of fantasy sports leagues involved the case of Humphrey v. Viacom, Inc. In this case, Charles Humphrey Jr. sued Viacom, CBS, Sportsline.com, The Walt Disney Company, ESPN, The Hearst Corporation, Vulcan, and The Sporting News, who all owned fantasy sports sites that required users to pay in order to participate. Cash prizes were given to the winners.

Humphrey claimed that this was a form of illegal gambling under the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006.

He argued that the entry fee was a bet and that the winners were determined by chance instead of skill.

The reason fantasy sports were games of chance was that the outcome was determined by factors outside of the player’s control such as injuries and coaches’ decisions to bench certain players at certain times.

Humphrey compared the games to other games of chance such as poker.

The Federal District Court of New Jersey dismissed the case for two main reasons. First, the court stated that an entry fee doesn’t constitute a wager. The reason is that the legal distinction between entry fees and wagers stems from the fact that with entry fees, one player is guaranteed to win, and the size of the prize is not proportionate to the fees collected.

Secondly, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 specifically exempts fantasy sports.

But this just covered interstate fantasy sports and didn’t affect state laws that prevent residents from participating.

Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 (UIGEA)

Many have used the UIGEA as a reason that DFS does not constitute gambling. The logic behind this argument is that the law exempts games that have pre-determined prizes.

The law states that games “based on skill and determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events, including any non-participant’s individual performances in such sporting events” are not considered to be illegal gambling.

The law calls on banks to enforce the prohibition of fund transfers that support internet gambling. The UIGEA exempted fantasy sports to alleviate a burden that banks would have in enforcing the law regarding transactions.

The law itself doesn’t provide any definitions of what constitutes gambling. As such, states are free to make laws defining what gambling is.

Despite this, the author of the legislation, former Congressman Jim Leach, states that “it is sheer chutzpah for a fantasy sports company to cite the law as a legal basis for existing.

How to Play in Daily Fantasy Sports Leagues

The first step in playing in a DFS league is to determine the website that you would like to play on. There are several choices available to you. Some sites may heavily favor a particular sport. Some professional leagues even team up with some websites as an official partner or sponsor. It is best to research these sites and determine which best caters to you.

Some things to consider when selecting a site to play in a DFS league:

  • The sport or sports you wish to play
  • The prizes offered
  • The type of leagues offered (i.e., 50/50, head-to-head, GPP)
  • Is a deposit bonus offered?
  • The terms of the deposit bonus
  • The type of funds they accept
  • The way they pay out

Once you determine the site you wish to play on, then create your account and make any initial deposits required.

When your account is established, it’s time to determine the type of league you want to compete in. I’ve mentioned the leagues previously, so there’s no need to go over them again. Each has its own pros and cons. Just remember, they’re all short term, so you’re not stuck with them for an entire season as you’d be with a traditional fantasy sports league.

The next step is drafting your players. You must come up with a team based on the salary cap instituted by the league you’re playing in.

Now you’re ready to play. The site will keep track of all the statistics in real time, so while a game is playing, you can stay logged in and watch the point totals increase as the game progresses.

Choosing Players

The makeup of your team is critical to your success in DFS leagues.

When you are setting up your team, be aware of your salary cap. Each player will have a salary associated with him. You can usually view per position and then sort based on salary.

Each site will show stats on the player, so you can click on a button to view these stats

Once you are satisfied with a player, you can add him to your team.

You will repeat this process for each player.

Once you have filled all the slots on your team, you can submit your roster.

Even though the roster is submitted, it is not final until the league locks in all lineups. Each site has its own rules as to when the roster is locked. In the time between the time you submit your roster and the time the roster is locked, you can research your players to see if any will be unable to play for any reason. If that’s the case, you can edit the roster and resubmit if the roster is not locked.


For years, I was a big fan of fantasy sports leagues. The problem I had was the time I needed to devote to them. I was spending hours adding and dropping players, trying to make trades, and analyzing the player stats, and the biggest pain was waiting for league commissioners to approve the changes.

Despite this, I won a few leagues, and I was pretty happy with the result. But as time went on, I played in fewer leagues and eventually found myself not playing in any.

That was until I discovered daily fantasy sports.

I loved the fact that I could jump in and jump out as I wished. I could play for one day and not play again for a few weeks if life got busy.

And although I had to pay an entry fee each time I played, I didn’t mind, because if I won, the rewards were relatively instant.

Today, I exclusively play in DFS leagues. It gives me the flexibility that I need to work and take care of personal errands without sacrificing the hours that I normally did on season-long leagues.

I still study the stats because I don’t want to blindly jump into a game without understanding player performance, but I don’t have to do any heavy analysis because I’m not concerned with trades, injuries, or any other concerns I’d have with having a team long term. With DFS, I’m just concerned with the immediate future. And when the game is over, I’m done and don’t have to worry about it again.