How not to be a ‘sucker’ on FanDuel or DraftKings

The New York Times Magazine published an expose on the fantasy sports sites FanDuel and DraftKings, with an author who says he was a “sucker” that the dominant professional players could easily exploit.

The article is worth reading, for its explanation of how many of the same people who dominated the now-illegal-online-poker scene are the ones at the still-legal-in-most-states fantasy sports environment, and other insights.

But there are ways to avoid being bait for the sharks that cost the New York Times author some $1,900 during the football season.

The following won’t, to be clear, tell you how to win money on these sites, which allow users to bet on the play of individual athletes. It’s merely advice on how not to be easy prey.

Before going further, it’s important to explain the types of contests that are available, which can broadly be split into higher-pay games that are harder to win, and lower-pay games that are easier to win. In fantasy sports parlance, the higher-pay games are referred to as guaranteed prize pool, or GPP, and the lower-pay games are called “cash” contests.

Lower-pay contests

The first mistake the author, Jay Caspian Kang, made was choosing head-to-head games in the first place, and even then, there are safer ways to play.

A head-to-head game is exactly that — you versus one other user. Kang describes being pitted against the very best contestants in fantasy sports.

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But head-to-head is a terrible strategy for a newcomer.

Far more sensible are what FanDuel and DraftKings both call “50/50s” — beat half the pool, and you win $1.80 for every $1 (the additional 20 cents is what a casino would call the rake, or a broker would call a commission.) A related contest is the Double Up — beat 56% of the pool, and you win $2 for every $1 entered.

Sharks can enter the 50/50s as well, but many of the contests come with entry limits. Both FanDuel and DraftKings will identify which contests are multi-entry, and which are single entry.

Both sites also identify the opponents who are waiting to play. Someone bold enough to enter a $530 head-to-head contest Thursday night on NBA games in DraftKings will see sharks identified in the New York Times article including “Kobe4MVP,” “Dinkpiece” and “maxdalury” awaiting a contest.

Don’t play them! In fact, there are Chrome extensions that show how many wins the opponent has.

Also, don’t create a public head-to-head matchup for anyone — including a shark — to play the other side.

Higher-pay contests

These are the type of games that FanDuel and DraftKings advertisements like to highlight, the guy in the Patriots jersey jumping up and down after winning $1 million.

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First — there’s no easy way to win $1 million. Even for the sharks. There’s a reddit user who has been tracking the results of the DraftKings Millionaire Maker for the players who have submitted at least 100 lineups — as good a proxy for a shark as you’re ever going to get. In the 10 weeks tracked, these users have had a negative return on investment in nine of them.

In week 17 of the NFL season in 2016, these users entered $350,940 worth of contests and made $215,700 off them.

The winner of FanDuel’s top NFL contest in Week 17 was a player by the name of “rahuld76” — who won for only the fifth time in his life, according to his profile. The winner of the top DraftKings contest, Pickle45, isn’t listed in RotoGrinders compilation of top players. It’s possible that these are both sharks hiding in a minnow’s outfit, but on the surface they appear to be infrequent contestants.

In any event, both FanDuel and DraftKings run single-entry contests — that is, the sharks who enter 100 different lineups in a typical contest can only enter a single one.

Not that there really is a huge difference — you’re unlikely to finish first either way, and there are times when it’s actually easier to win a smaller amount of money in the contest where the sharks play.

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For example, the number of fantasy points to win the smallest prize in an NHL “Breakaway” contest on FanDuel was 32.60; it was 33.50 for the “One Timer,” the single-entry version. It was a bit easier to win first place in the “One Timer,” where the best score was 61.80 versus the 65.30 in the “Breakaway.”

That’s logical when you think about it. A shark is more likely to enter what the options market would call out-of-the-money entries — low-probability, higher-reward gambles. Most of those will be unsuccessful.

It’s worth comparing the odds on fantasy sports to Powerball. A $20 entry in this week’s DraftKings Millionaire contest had a 22% chance of winning anything (the smallest prize is $30) and a one-in-294,117 chance of winning $1 million.

A $2 entry into Powerball carried a 1-in-24.87 chance of winning anything, a 1-in-11.16 million chance of winning $1 million, plus a 1-in-292 million chance of winning the grand prize.

Crunch the math, and a person is about four times more likely to be a millionaire playing on DraftKings than on Powerball, though the latter has a prize of a different magnitude over what’s available on fantasy sports.

“Sucker” is a relative term.

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