What’s in a word? For daily fantasy leagues, one word is worth about $1 billion dollars. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 carefully excluded fantasy sports from their legislation. The 31 U.S. Code 5362 1.E.IX.II1 states the following:
For the purposes of legislation, this caveat of “skill” is enough to justify the existence of daily fantasy leagues, which attest to being a skill-based online venture. For the purposes of science, one word is not enough. So, we wanted to measure the “skill” of a daily fantasy player by studying the relationship between a player’s strategy as well as time spent choosing a fantasy lineup and the performance of the players selected. In other words — is daily fantasy a game of chance or skill?
Show me your skills
Before weeks 15 and 16 of the football season, we surveyed 251 daily fantasy football players and asked for their projected fantasy lineup for the upcoming week’s games on either Draft Kings or Fan Duel. We then asked their strategies for choosing their daily teams both “in general” and specifically, for “this upcoming week.” Strategies for choosing their fantasy teams were on a scale from 1 (“Never”) to 7 (“All the time”), and included strategies like: information from “expert websites,” “predictive algorithms,” “other data-driven strategies,” or “my best guess.” We then asked how much time each daily fantasy player spent picking their fantasy lineups2.
“Other data driven strategies” proved to be the only strategy that came close (r = .10, n = 251, p = .05) to predicting the quality of a chosen fantasy player (figure 1). Even though “other data driven strategies” are vague, we know that it includes something other than predictive algorithms. Still, these results don’t say much at all.
|Figure 1. Strategies used to select daily fantasy lineups|
Additionally, there was no indication that time spent picking a fantasy team correlated with the average quality of the fantasy player chosen (figure 2) — and it’s not even close. True, there are some rainmen-like people who can make a living playing fantasy sports and can say that daily fantasy football is a game of skill. But, overall, these data suggest that for most people, success in daily fantasy sports is due to chance — and not skill. That, or these people are incredibly lucky, and incredibly short-sighted.
|Figure 2. Time spent selecting fantasy lineups|
Regardless, semantics seem to be a poor strategy for justifying the existence of daily fantasy leagues. If skill is going to be the distinction from the random chances in gambling, it needs to be measured, rather than just stated. However, these results draw no distinction between playing daily fantasy football and rolling the dice in craps. Neither the strategy chosen nor the amount of time spent selecting one’s daily fantasy lineup seemed to make a difference.
Don’t quit your day job.
2 The average daily fantasy football player is a single 32-year-old white male, with a 4-year college degree, and an average household income of $55,000 per year. They’ve played daily fantasy football in about 61% of the weeks this season, and have about 2 daily teams each week. Their average fantasy player chosen scores 13.4 fantasy football points in DraftKings (120.6 team points), and about 12 points in FanDuel (108 team points).↩