Most Americans Can Play Daily Fantasy Sports. Why Not the Sportsbook?

December 17, 2019 Todd Winkler

The vast majority of US states offer licensed Daily Fantasy Sports play with real-money betting to those within their borders. The only states that block FanDuel, DraftKings, Yahoo, and Fantasy Draft are Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Washington, and, surprisingly, Nevada. While some Daily Fantasy operators are not licensed in certain states, all the others have at least one or two to choose from, while the rest have all four and more.

Man in hooded sweatshirt looking up at the NFL football sportsbook numbers.

What is it about Daily Fantasy Sports that makes it the most legal form of gambling in the US? © Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, about half of those states made Daily Fantasy Sports specifically legal. The rest don’t categorize DFS as gambling, placing it in its own category outside of the traditional sportsbook.

Meanwhile, a state-licensed online sportsbook has a much more restricted availability. While the list of states seems to be growing every day, at the time of writing this article, the online sportsbook is available in: • New Jersey • Pennsylvania • West Virginia • Rhode Island • Oregon • Indiana Why the distinction? Does it make sense that playing Daily Fantasy Sports for the chance to win money is legal while playing the sportsbook for the same reason is illegal? Here’s where things stand in the US today.

Daily Fantasy Is Considered Skill-Based

In most cases, the definition of gambling is betting money on a game of chance. But US states have taken that a step further by defining gambling a game of pure chance. If employing skill increases your chances of winning, it’s suddenly not considered gambling – at least in the prevue of state legislation.

Interestingly, research has shown that Daily Fantasy Sports players who are the most skilled at the game walk away with the most money. It’s unclear what the winning strategies are specifically. Still, those approaching DFS relying purely on luck have a statistically far lower chance of success than those who take the time to develop a strategy and skilfully make selections.

Generally, the more one knows about the nuances of the sport, the more skilled they are at making selections. How will the weather affect the game? Are certain players injured? Will their injury affect the performance of the players who take to the field? These are just a few examples, but the stats are clear: learn more to win more.

But How Is Daily Fantasy Sports Skill Different Than the Sportsbook Skill?

What separates the most successful sports bettors? Research, experience, and a bit of luck – the same as Daily Fantasy Sports bettors. So what makes DFS more skill-based than the sportsbook? The answer seems to be playing against other people.

In an online sportsbook, the bettor chooses events that pay out based on nothing more than the result of the game. If you bet the points spread, for example, the final score would affect whether you win or lose, but what other people bet doesn’t make a difference. While more people betting on a specific outcome will likely change the bookmaker’s odds, how well other bettors do doesn’t affect the rest of the bettors.

With DFS, on the other hand, how much you win is based on how well you do compared to other members’ Daily Fantasy Sports teams. It seems that competition alone separates DFS as a skill-based game rather than one based purely on luck. But, ultimately, DFS skill translates to traditional sports betting skill – and vice versa.

What About Poker, the Most Skill-Based Game at the Casino?

The most mystifying part of Daily Fantasy Sports legality in comparison to other forms of betting are the restrictions on online poker. In fact, many professional gamblers will insist that luck has nothing to do with winning or losing a game of poker against other players – online or in-person. With the combination of mathematical odds and directly reading into the actions of your opponents as you’re playing in real-time, online poker is undeniably more skill-based than DFS. This is especially true considering how your DFS team only does as well as the players chosen for the roster. Even the most reliable athletes can have a bad day – thus, the luck involved in DFS.

With online poker, which is only legal four states, the luck of the draw is a small element compared to the performance of the bettor themselves.

So, why is Daily Fantasy Sports legal, but the regular sportsbook and online poker are highly restricted? It seems that the DFS operators made the best case in the US court system. (Yes, it may really be as simple as that.)

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