Legal Fantasy Sports

US Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports (DFS) let you put your money where your mouth is and build your very own dream team for a chance to win real money every day. It’s almost like sports betting, except every play matters and six or seven-figure payouts happen so often they don’t even make the news.

In an online fantasy sports contest, you draft players from around the league and then watch the points roll in as your players score touchdowns, hit home runs and nail three-pointers in their real-world games. Score more points than the competition and you’ll finish the day with a bigger bankroll than you had that morning.

One of the nice things about daily fantasy sports compared to traditional sports betting is DFS games are legal in most states right now. The first mainstream DFS sites went live in 2009 and settled the legal matter in most states a long time ago. Today, online fantasy games are legal in almost every state.

In fact, DFS contests are legal in so many states that it is easier to just list where they are not legal: Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and Washington. As long as you live in any other state, it is game on.

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Best DFS Sites

The online fantasy sports landscape is dominated by two major brands: DraftKings and FanDuel. If you spend a little time poking around on the internet for DFS information, it won’t be long before you run into one or both of those names as recommended places to play.

DraftKings and FanDuel are by far the two largest fantasy sites in operation today with the biggest contests, biggest prizes and millions of customers spread across the country. There are other options out there, but none even come close to DraftKings and FanDuel in terms of contests offered every day and prize money to be won.

Both sites got to this position by being among the first to the market, constantly improving the product and pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising. At one point, DraftKings and FanDuel were advertising so often during sports broadcasts that people were actually starting to become annoyed by the ads.

Nevertheless, both companies accomplished their mission: to firmly establish their brands names in the minds of sports fans across the US. Both remain the biggest fantasy sites to this day, but each plots its own path forward and your experience will not be identical at both.



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We do not want to come across as hopelessly biased here, but both sites really have reached a point of dominance not seen in other types of online gaming. While there are dozens of competing sports betting apps, online racebooks and poker sites in some states that all compete on more or less equal ground, the dominance of DraftKings and FanDuel is nearly absolute.

That being said, there are some other smaller, niche daily fantasy apps that offer a different experience for users. If you’d like to step off the beaten path and consider something else, we do have some recommendations there as well.

Other Daily Fantasy Sports Apps

Each of the following fantasy apps operates on a much smaller scale than the Big Two discussed above, but each offers something a little different than all the rest.


PrizePicks has quickly become the most popular DFS app for pick’em predictions style contests where users can win up to 25x the amount staked. Legal in most states, and has become known for innovating new DFS formats.

Underdog Fantasy

Underdog is a popular DFS pick’em predictions app that is available in most US states. Known for aggressive promotions and bonuses.

Boom Fantasy

Boom Fantasy works along a similar premise to FastPick but remains firmly in fantasy territory as all contests are played against other players. Boom Fantasy contests are all about making predictions such as who will achieve the most fantasy points out of a group of four players or trying to predict how many baskets, strikeouts or TDs an individual player will achieve.

Make better predictions than your opponents and you’ll earn a real money payout. Contests are still somewhat sparsely populated, but Boom Fantasy still does its best to make it worth your time by hosting daily progressive jackpots worth up to $100,000 for getting every prediction correct in a contest.

The Legality of Daily Fantasy Sports

Daily fantasy sports are legal under federal law, but states are given the final say in deciding if such games are legal within their borders. Currently, most states permit fantasy sports and have either passed legislation to license and regulate DFS sites or simply allow them to operate under existing consumer protection laws just like any other business.

Only a small handful of states do not allow fantasy sports to operate within their borders. Some of these states have legislation in place that clearly prohibits DFS while others are so unclear on the issue that most fantasy operators choose to stay out of those states.

States Where DFS Is Legal

In discussing the legality of DFS on a state-by-state level, we should note that the law does not always outright declare daily fantasy sites legal every state. In some states, the law is not 100% clear, but we consider them de facto “legal” states because the major fantasy sites have been operating there for years without any trouble from local officials.

In other words, you can play at the major fantasy sites from any of the following states:

New HampshireNew JerseyNew MexicoNew York
North CarolinaNorth DakotaOhioOklahoma
OregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth Carolina
South DakotaTennesseeTexasUtah
VermontVirginiaWest VirginiaWisconsin

States Where DFS Is Not Permitted

The major daily fantasy sports apps do not accept customers from the following states.


How Federal Law Addresses Daily Fantasy Sports

The federal government mostly takes a hands-off approach to the regulation of fantasy sports by handing it off to the states. The one federal law that explicitly mentions fantasy sports is the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA) – and that law specifically exempts fantasy sports from anti-gambling provisions found within the law.

The UIGEA was originally passed in an effort to crack down on illegal online gambling, but its authors also included a number of exemptions to avoid disrupting forms of gaming that were already legal at the time.

Among those exemptions was one reserved just for fantasy sports contests. It reads as follows:

                (ix) participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization (as those terms are defined in section 3701 of title 28) and that meets the following conditions:

                    (I) All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.

                    (II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.

                    (III) No winning outcome is based–

(aa) on the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams; or

(bb) solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.

To put that in plainer terms, the UIGEA states fantasy contests are legal as long as they meet these requirements:

  • No full teams on your roster: Fantasy sites are not allowed to let players draft an entire team for their fantasy rosters. This rule seems intended to prevent fantasy contests from turning into de facto sports wagers.
  • Prizes declared ahead of time: Prizes must be made known prior to fantasy contests going live. In other words, sites cannot hold contests in which the prize is determined by how many people buy in.
  • Contests must cover multiple events: Per UIGEA regulations, every fantasy contest must cover more than one individual event to be lawful.
  • Winning outcomes cannot be based on the score, point spread or single athletes’ performances: This stipulation also seems intended to maintain a clear line of distinction between fantasy contests and sports betting.

If you’ve followed the daily fantasy industry for any length of time, you may have noticed some contests that are being held these days seem to play fast and loose with some of the above rules.

For example, FanDuel and DraftKings have both held contests for the Super Bowl and regularly hold contests for single PGA tournaments. These contests seem to violate the provision that stipulates all contests must be based on the outcomes of “multiple real-world sporting or other events.” However, fantasy operators contend even individual games can be broken down into “multiple events” such as every play in the Super Bowl or every round in a golf tournament.

The validity of those arguments can be argued back and forth forever, but the only fact that matters is authorities in states with legal fantasy sites have chosen not to act. As long as the authorities decline to step in, these types of contests will go on.

DFS Partnerships with Sports Leagues

In 2014 and 2015, as DraftKings and FanDuel were establishing themselves as the leaders of an entirely new market, both sites went on a spree in forming partnerships with individual teams and entire leagues spanning the full range of pro sports in the US.

Here’s just a small sampling of some of the many partnerships both sites reached with major sports organizations in those early years:

  • DraftKings and the UFC (source)
  • FanDuel and the NBA (source)
  • DraftKings and the NHL (source)
  • FanDuel and 13 NBA teams (source)
  • DraftKings and 12 NFL teams (source)
  • FanDuel and 15 NFL teams (source)
  • And the list goes on

These partnerships were critical to each site’s early success and long-term prospects because not only did they provide name recognition, but they also formed the glue for powerful alliances down the line as lawmakers across the country began looking into the business model.

Back in those early days, the booming daily fantasy model had no precedent and lawmakers were unsure how to deal with the industry. Traditional fantasy sports leagues were already well known, but daily fantasy games played online was a whole new concept. With attorneys general in some states opining that DFS should be treated as gambling, the entire business model could very well have been snuffed out before it even had a chance to get off the ground.

By partnering with the powerful US sports leagues, the big DFS sites established a sense of legitimacy. If the NFL (which was openly hostile to sports betting at the time) was willing to partner with sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings, what could be the harm in letting those sites operate in the US?

These partnerships with the leagues as well as with the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association (formerly the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association) did much to establish daily fantasy as a serious business model.

The daily fantasy industry fell a little short of establishing its legality in all 50 states, but it came admirably close. Had the industry pioneers been lazy in this regard, daily fantasy easily could have been just another footnote in the history books.

Those existing relationships have also proven fruitful more recently with the legalization of sports betting. Now that FanDuel and DraftKings are both involved in the legal betting business, both have been able to build on the work done in those early days to extend their partnerships into sports betting.

DFS As an Alternative to Sports Betting

While much of the media coverage these days related to online gaming has focused on the legalization of sports betting, something we like to stress here at is that fantasy sports serve as an attractive alternative for fans who live in states that haven’t yet hopped onto the sports betting bandwagon.

One of the big reasons daily fantasy caught on in the first place was its resemblance to actual sports betting. Although fantasy contests aren’t quite the same thing as traditional sports wagering, there are enough similarities that make DFS a worthy stand-in.

For one, your knowledge of sports is the key to success in both. If you’re intimately familiar with a certain sport or two, you’re already ahead of the game whether we’re talking sports betting or daily fantasy. Both are contests of skill and definitely reward those who make strategic decisions more often than those who wing it.

Secondly, fantasy sports grant greater significance to every play of every game just like sports betting. Games you wouldn’t normally watch suddenly become a whole lot more interesting when you have a fantasy lineup and real money on the line.

The legalization of sports betting seems to have generated more excitement than the legalization of DFS, but fantasy sports do have their strong points. One of those is the amount of money that can be won relative to your starting stake via DFS.

There are very few situations in traditional sports betting other than multi-leg parlays that offer large payouts relative to your original wager. Fantasy contests, by comparison, often issue six and sometimes even seven-figure payouts when enough people join a contest. Additionally, big contests tend to attract a lot of dead money – that is buyins made by people who really don’t have much of a strategy.

On the other hand, winning a big fantasy contest is quite difficult when you have sometimes a hundred thousand entrants who have all submitted their own lineups that will be competing against yours for the top payouts. However, major DFS sites do offer head-to-head contests which put you against a single opponent in a winner-take-all format that is much easier to win.

We suspect most states will legalize sports betting at some point, but it will be a slow-going process. In the meantime, the best fantasy sports sites are open for business and offer a comparable experience.

How Daily Fantasy Sports Contests Work

Daily fantasy sports contests come in all different shapes and sizes these days, but we’ll start with an overview of the basic idea and then dive into some of the other variants that have come out over recent years.

To sum up the basic idea, fantasy contests have you draft teams of players from around the league for a contest that will be covering a day’s worth of sports. The prototypical fantasy contest lasts exactly one day (hence the term daily fantasy sports), but it is not unusual to find contests that extend for longer time periods.

After you enter a contest and draft a team, you’ll start racking up fantasy points as your athletes perform in the real world. Every touchdown scored, strike thrown and pass completed by your athletes adds to your fantasy points total. After the conclusion of the last game on the slate, payouts are awarded to the entrants whose teams ended with the highest point totals.

Enter a Contest

The most basic type of online fantasy contest is the salary cap tournament. These contests always come with a guaranteed prize pool and are often referred to as “GPPs.”

Playing in a GPP begins with logging in to your favorite fantasy site, visiting the lobby and finding a tournament for your preferred sport. If you happen to be at one of the two biggest fantasy sites, you’ll have hundreds of contests to choose from at a wide range of buyins.

Draft a Lineup

Once you’ve paid the entry fee, you’ll be given a virtual salary to draft a team of players from around the league. Here, you’ll attempt to build the most effective team possible while also staying within your salary cap limitations.

This is where the strategic side of DFS shines because you only have so much money to spend on players, which in turn means you have to take great care in where you spend your money. For example, Patrick Mahomes might be an attractive pick for your quarterback position, but you’ll have to think twice before picking him if he costs $8,900 and your total salary for a 9-man roster is just $60,000.

In short, it comes down to figuring out where to spend big and where to save money. Spending big on one position will require sacrifices in other spots. Likewise, going for a cheap option in one position will free up money elsewhere.

Earning Points

Once you’ve drafted your team, the hard part is over and now it’s time to sit back and watch the points roll in. Every fantasy site has its own way of doing things, but generally the better your players perform on gameday, the more points you earn as a fantasy manager.

At the conclusion of the contest, players are ranked by the number of fantasy points their athletes earned throughout the day’s games. Standard GPPs use a prize structure similar to that of poker tournaments with the bulk of the prize money going to the top finishers and smaller payouts reserved for other high-ranking finishers.

Types of Daily Fantasy Sports Contests

The contest described above is just one of many different types of contests offered today by various fantasy sites. In addition to standard GPPs, you’ll find heads-up contests, 50/50s, satellites, multipliers and more. Here’s a look at some of the most common types of DFS contests you will likely encounter during your time as a fantasy player.

Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP): The GPP is the most basic type of fantasy contest in which every entrant pays a buyin fee, is given a virtual salary to draft a lineup and then competes to earn the most fantasy points possible. Prizes are heavily weighted in favor of the top finishers, with some of the biggest contests paying as much as $1 million to first place.

50/50s: These are played similarly to GPPs but with a prize structure in which exactly half the entrants earn a payout of almost double their money. In a 100-person 50/50, for example, exactly 50 people would earn a payout.

What makes 50/50s attractive for some people is there’s no pressure to finish near the very top of the pack; all you need to do is outscore half the field to earn a payout. Whether you finish in 1st place or 50th in a 100-person double-up makes no difference because you’ll be paid the same regardless.

This format changes the optimal strategy as well. In a standard GPP, players tend to look for athletes with high ceilings due to the need to rack up an impressive point total to have a shot at the big money. 50/50s, by contrast, reward players who can identify consistent performers since all that’s needed is to finish within the top 50% of the field.

Payouts in 50/50s are almost double your money after accounting for the rake kept by the fantasy site to turn a profit. For example, a $10 double up will typically pay $18 to every person who finishes in the top half of the field. The other $2 is kept by the fantasy site as rake.

Double-Ups: Double-ups are very similar to 50/50s in that about half the field gets double their money. The difference is that a double-up actually pays exactly double your money, but slightly fewer than 50% of the field qualifies for a payout.

For example, a 23-person double-up with a $10 entry fee would pay exactly $20 to each of the top 10 finalists. The difference between 50/50s and double-ups essentially comes down to how the rake is collected. A 50/50 collects rake by paying slightly less than double your prize money; a double-up collects rake by paying slightly less than 50% of the field.

Head-to-Head: Head-to-head contests put you against just one other person for a winner-take-all prize pool. You miss out on the potentially life-changing payouts offered by GPPs but gain a much better chance of winning.

Head-to-head contests, 50/50s and double-ups are often referred to as “cash games” by the DFS community with the idea being that cash games are played for smaller, frequent wins (just like cash games in poker). By comparison, big GPPs are compared to poker tournaments with long stretches of coming up short punctuated by the occasional massive win.

Multipliers: These contests operate on a similar principle to double-ups but with a different “multiplier” for payouts. For example, you might find 3x multipliers that pay three times the buyin to the top third of the field, 5x multipliers that pay five times the buyin to the top fifth of the field or 10x multipliers that pay ten times the buyin to the top 10% of the field.

Satellites and Qualifiers: Satellites and qualifiers award entry into bigger contests in lieu of cash prizes. If a major tournament is coming up but the buyin is a little too hefty for your bankroll, you can usually find a satellite that will give you a chance to qualify for a fraction of the cost.

Some of the biggest championship events held every year for each sport can only be entered through qualifiers– buying in directly isn’t even an option. Thus, you’ll need to acquaint yourself with qualifiers at some point if you dream of competing in the world’s biggest daily fantasy contests with seven-figure prize pools.

The payout structure for satellites and qualifiers tends to be extremely top-heavy. That means only the first couple of finalists will win entry into the next event up while everyone else will go home with either a small consolation prize or nothing at all.

Steps: Steps are a series of contests with increasing buyins that build up to a final contest with big cash prizes. These contests are useful for bankroll building as you can start at the bottom with a low-buyin tournament and work your way up to a significant cash payout.

Steps can be organized in an endless number of varieties, but here’s a real example from DraftKings involving a 4-step series of contests:

  • Step 1: $2 to enter, 10 players, 1st-2nd get a Step 2 ticket, 3rd-4th get a Step 1 ticket
  • Step 2: $7 to enter, 10 players, 1st-2nd get a Step 3 ticket, 3rd-4th get a Step 2 ticket
  • Step 3: $25 to enter, 10 players, 1st-2nd get a Step 4 ticket, 3rd-4th get a Step 3 ticket
  • Step 4: $88 to enter, 6 players, 1st gets $200 and 3rd get a Step 4 ticket

Friends Mode: The biggest fantasy sites offer a friends mode feature which allows you to create private contests and invite your friends. You can host them as regular daily fantasy contests or traditional season-long leagues with custom prizes and buyins.

Beginner Only: Beginner contests are highly recommended for all new players as they restrict entry to other players who are similarly inexperienced. DraftKings and FanDuel, for example, only allow players who have played in 50 or fewer contests to enter beginner contests.

Depositing at DFS Sites

You can read about daily fantasy all day long, but eventually there comes a time where the best thing to do is just jump right in, make a deposit and give it a try with real money on the line. Not only will this give you a chance to see what it’s like to have some skin in the game and decide if DFS is right for you, but the experience will also help you quickly figure out what works, what doesn’t and what you still need to research as a player.

With the best fantasy apps hosting contests for as little as a dollar, your first foray into DFS does not need to be a high-risk venture. Even playing for small stakes in beginner-only contests will give you a great sense of what it’s all about.

Credit card, debit card and PayPal are by far the three most common deposit methods in daily fantasy and are in fact the only methods accepted by FanDuel and DraftKings. If you’re not too keen on using a credit or debit card to fund your account, you can also use PayPal for electronic bank transfers and cash deposits made in-person at local 7-Elevens, pharmacies and other locations.

Let’s take a look at each of the most common deposit methods so you can find the one that best fits your needs.

Credit Cards: Credit card deposits are straightforward and funds are instantly credited to your account. If you’ve ever ordered anything online with a credit card, the process of funding your fantasy account is almost identical. You’ll need to pick an amount to deposit and then provide your card number, expiration date and CVV code.

The main thing to be aware of when using credit cards to play DFS is how much you’re spending. As much fun as DFS is, it’s not worth going into debt to play.

Debit Cards: An even better, more responsible alternative is to just use a debit card to play online. This deposit method is just as simple and fast as using a credit card, but doesn’t send you immediately into debt.

PayPal: PayPal offers more flexibility in terms of deposit methods and getting paid, which is nice for frequent DFS players. If you give daily fantasy a try and think you’ll be back for more, it’s worth considering signing up for a free PayPal account. Doing so will make it easier to track your bankroll and keep your DFS money separate from your other money.

You can fund your PayPal account via electronic bank transfer or something called PayPal CASH which allows actual cash deposits. If you choose PayPal CASH, you’ll be given a custom barcode that you can print out or save to your mobile device. Then, take the barcode to a nearby PayPal CASH location and pay with cash at the register to instantly load your PayPal account.

Once you have a funded PayPal account, you can then transfer the funds to your DFS account. PayPal adds an extra step to the process by acting as a middleman, but does come in handy due to its ability to receive payouts and to quickly move money from one DFS site to the next.

Withdrawing Your Winnings

Now we move to the best part of all: getting paid. If you do well in daily fantasy and acquire some winnings, congratulations. Few things feel as nice as cashing out a well-deserved win.

When the time comes to withdraw your winnings, most fantasy sites offer a few options. In some cases, your credit or debit card will simply be issued refunds for amounts up to the size of your original deposit. If your withdrawal is larger than that, the remainder will be given via PayPal or paper check in the mail.

PayPal is almost always the best option if at all possible because cashouts are processed quickly and you can then transfer the money straight to your bank account without even leaving the house. Checks via mail can take up to 7 business days, but will get the job done if you don’t have a PayPal account.