Fantasy Football: Harmless Fun or Unregulated Illegal Gambling?

Participants earn points based on the performances of the players in real-world football games.

Fantasy football is a big business. In fantasy football, there are nosuchsafeguards. Otherwise, it is just luck. Teams must report when NFL players are injured. According to the New York Times, an employee ofDraftKingsused insider information to make bets that earned him $350,000 onFanDuel.[1]. But, let’s try to be more subjective. This article concernsdaily or weekly fantasy football that is most often associated with the large operators FanDuel and DraftKings. Perhaps they are trying to become entrenched before regulators catch on. It does not concernseason-long fantasy football, which usually has a nominal cost, is played among friends, and has fewer legal problems.

www.fanduel.com (FanDuel Logo)

Game of Skill or Chance?

Now let’s look at the argument that FanDuel and DraftKings run games of skill. But they are not required to do so. Some claim it is online gambling, which is illegal in most states[5], while proponents claim it is a game of skill[2]. Predicting such events is difficult, and arguably impossible.

Players are either fairly valued,overvalued, or undervalued. Almost 75 million people will play this year and spend almost 5 billion dollars.[3]

Is a player healthy? This information appears to be readily available. Given that fantasy football is much less regulated, and given the large amounts of money involved, you should expect shenanigans. If you know a player is hurt before it becomes public knowledge, you have an edge. Player pricesare setby game operators, who use supply and demand todecidepricing, but indirectly. Does he have a grudge against the opposing team that would motivate him to play better than usual? Is the player unhappy and trying to get traded? Obviously, no amount of skill enables you to get inside the head of a player, so all of this information is left to chance.

Like penny stocks, which are very risky but have huge potential for returns, some football playersare considered”flyers” in that they are long shots, not likely to even play. Many rules and regulations are in place in the world of stock trading to prevent traders from benefiting unfairly from insider information. This makes them inexpensive. They have a value, but unlike stocks, their value is not determined directly by the market, but by bookies – the operators of the fantasy football websites.

What is the player’s psychological state? Did the player have a fight with his girlfriend the night before the game. If nothing else, as a player you should go into it with eyes wide open. But players often hide or downplay injuries. Common sense tells you that with the large amount of money at stake, valuable informationwill be leaked. Sometimes the opposing team might decide to focus on stopping the run that week and instead force the other team to pass. To be a skillful fantasy player, you need to understand all the factors that influencehow well a particular player might perform. There are no external systems in place to prevent fraud or insider trading, other than the internal controls implemented by the fantasy football operators themselves. The outcome of all theses nuances is not predictable, much as the weather two weeks from now is not predictable with any accuracy.

Fantasy football is controversial. In snow and rain, teams usually run more than they pass and attempt fewer field goals. Or the other team might have injured players and be forced to play second-string defensive backs, which your player’s team decides to exploit by focusing on the pass instead of the run. You win money by betting on (buying or drafting) players you thinkare undervaluedwho then prove your judgement correct by doing better than expected (catching more passes, gaining more yards, scoring more touchdowns). This can happen when an unknown player gets a chance when a starting playeris injured. Players must trust that the fantasy football operators are trustworthy and that information about player health, pricing, and team strategy is madeavailable publicly, and not leaked to a select few for financial gain. Is the matchup favorable? This is a an area where you might think that your skill comes into play. But these long shots can pay off in a big way. Here are just some of these factors:

Speaking of weather, what will the weather be like at game time? Some players don’t like playing in foul weather. They are not always true. Personally, I consider fantasy football to be a game of skill if I win. Or an injury could happen during the game on either side that completely nullifies the favorable matchup. Some coaches don’t like to disclose the health of their players because it could give other teams an advantage. Second, in fantasy football, “price” is not set directly by supply and demand in the market, as is the case with stocks. In any event, predicting the weather at game time is difficult because you usually have to pick your players several days before the gamesare played.


Stock trading is heavily regulated and yet scandals and fraud occur with regularity. I am not suggesting you should not play, but don’t bet the farm and don’t be fooled into thinking it is a game of skill.

Sample Fantasy Football Team (espn.com)

Fantasy Football and Stock Trading

In fantasy football, players are like stocks. They increase sales and profits more than expected, which causes traders to bid up their stock price.

By Paul Cutler from Chaska, USA (IMG_0954.JPG) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Fantasy Football?

Fantasy footballis a popular role-playing gamein which participants pretend to ownprofessionalfootballteams. They know they have a short window of opportunity. The fact that the operators can manipulate the price of the players makes fantasy football distinctly different from stock trading, and more susceptible to fraud. Think Enron, Martha Stewart, boiler room operations, etc. So unless you are an insider, you likely don’t know the true health or status of any player, regardless of your skill.

So while fantasy football and short-term stock trading are similar, they have some important differences. In fact, this has already happened. In fact, FanDuel and DraftKings probably know this, which might explain why they have been in an all-out marketing blitz, reportedly spending $150 million in advertising in just 3 months[4]. If a player is in unusually high demand one week, which indicates he isunderpriced, the game operators likely adjust his priceupfor the following week. Thiscan beproblematic. If you are playing a running back and you know that the opposing team is weak against the run, you might have a favorable matchup. An instructive way to frame this debate is to compare fantasy sports to a similar pursuit in which you make “bets” about the near future using limited funds: short-term stock trading. Or your player’s team might get behind early in the game and abandon the run for the pass, which can get you points quicker. First, fantasy football is not regulated. It is comparable to stock market operators setting the prices of stocks, instead of letting the market directlydeterminetheir value based on supply and demand.

As with stock trading, access to information in fantasy football gives you an edge. Sometime coaches bench players who are healthy, to save them for next game or punish them for violating team rules. The same principle applies in stock trading. You make money by buying stocks in companies that outperform expectations. Finally, as shown here, arguing that these contests are games of skill is dubious. The participants select their team rosters in an imaginarydraftin which allNational Football League(NFL) players are available. But reality is far more complex. But, these are just generalities

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