Daily Fantasy Sports In The US

The rise of FanDuel and DraftKings in the last decade lifted daily fantasy sports (DFS) into its current status as a multi-billion-dollar industry. The two brands operate as the undisputed leaders in the DFS market in the US.

As DFS platforms exploded in popularity, the scramble to define the legality of real-money DFS play began to play out in the US. FanDuel and DraftKings legally operate in more than 40 US states, and around half of those states have legislation in place explicitly legalizing DFS.

With the 2010s in the rear-view mirror, DFS is still an enormously popular pastime in the US. FanDuel and DraftKings account for more than 90 percent of the US market.

The Top Fantasy Sports Sites In The US

DraftKings

One of two brands that dominate the DFS industry, DraftKings launched in 2012. Though several other DFS platforms already operated in the US at the time, DraftKings immediately emerged as a market leader after the debut.

DraftKings offers DFS contests across virtually every imaginable major sport. The NFL stands as the most popular sport for DFS players, but that’s just a small piece of the massive menu of sports DraftKings has to offer for DFS contests.

Some of the DFS contests found at DraftKings offer seven-figure prize pools. The weekly NFL Millionaire Maker tournament boasts up to a $10 million prize pool and is just one of many contests offering massive potential payouts.

Bonus Offers At DraftKings

New players can take advantage of a $20 sign-up bonus. Upon registering for a new account, depositing at least $5 earns $20 in free betting credits as a welcome bonus.

DraftKings offers another bonus for new players in the form of a 20% deposit match bonus, up to $500. The bonus requires a 25x playthrough. The bonus funds are released in increments until the full eligible amount is awarded.

The 25x playthrough requirement must be fulfilled within 90 days of the deposit to unlock the full bonus.

How To Play At DraftKings

Players can access DraftKings through a desktop browser, or download the DraftKings mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

Android users can find the DraftKings app in the Google Play store, while iOS owners can download the app in the App Store. Both apps can also be downloaded directly from the DraftKings site.

Is DraftKings Better Than FanDuel?

Both of the DFS market leaders offer a vast amount of contests across numerous sports. DraftKings gets the edge over FanDuel in the total number of sports and games offered, however.

FanDuel

While DraftKings almost instantly emerged as a major player in the DFS market after its 2012 debut, FanDuel’s ascent to the top of the DFS industry took a bit longer.

FanDuel debuted in 2009 as a futures market prediction game. The platform transitioned to its current form as a daily fantasy sports platform in July 2009.

Much like DraftKings, FanDuel offers multi-million-dollar prize pools on DFS contests across numerous sports. The flagship DFS contest at FanDuel, the Sunday Million, runs weekly during NFL season and carries a first-place prize of $1 million.

Bonus Offers At FanDuel

New players earn a $5 free credit bonus after making their first deposit at FanDuel. FanDuel also offers a $10 referral bonus for each new player referred to the platform.

How To Play At FanDuel

The FanDuel DFS platform is available as a mobile app for both iOS and Android users.

For iOS devices, the FanDuel mobile app can be found as a free download in the App Store. Android device users can find the app in the Google Play store. Both apps are also available for download directly through FanDuel’s website.

The full slate of FanDuel’s DFS contests can also be accessed on a desktop browser.

Is FanDuel Better Than DraftKings?

Both FanDuel and DraftKings present a myriad of DFS contests across numerous sports. Players preferring large-field tournaments with lower buy-ins might prefer FanDuel over DraftKings.

Other DFS Operators In The US

MonkeyKnifeFight

Other brands on the US DFS scene include MonkeyKnifeFight. This platform is regulated to operate legally in more than 30 states.

Players looking for DFS options outside of DraftKings and FanDuel can find plenty of DFS contests at MonkeyKnifeFight. Most US major sports leagues, international soccer, and esports present DFS opportunities on the platform.

New players on the site can earn a 100% deposit match bonus up to $50.

PrizePicks

The DFS contests at PrizePicks revolve around individual player performances. While DraftKings and FanDuel DFS games largely involve a roster assembly and a salary cap, PrizePicks offers simple contest rules that play much like individual player prop bets.

Launched in 2018, PrizePicks contests set an over/under fantasy points line on individual players. Players battle against the house, not each other, in a simple and unique format.

Major US sports leagues, esports, and some international sports are open for play at PrizePicks.

What Is Daily Fantasy Sports?

Fantasy sports leagues have coincided with major US sports for decades. Daily fantasy sports platforms like FanDuel and DraftKings surged in popularity throughout the 2010s, turning the long-standing tradition of fantasy sports into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

DFS platforms take the traditional fantasy sports format and transform it into open public contests, with thousands of players and massive potential payouts.

Much like traditional fantasy sports, most DFS contests task participants with putting together a roster of players, in an effort to earn fantasy points. Fantasy points are based on in-game statistics, like yards and touchdowns in the NFL, for example.

While traditional fantasy sports pit players against each other in one-on-one battles, many DFS tournaments involve thousands of players.

What Kind Of Sports Fans Will Enjoy DFS?

DFS platforms offer a vast selection of contests on sports, esports, and niche games. Fans of traditional fantasy sports and legal sports betting will likely enjoy DFS contests.

The NFL is king on DFS platforms, but many other sports are open to play. US leagues like the NBA, NHL, PGA, NASCAR, and MLB all present opportunities for DFS players to enter contests yielding seven-figure prize pools.

International sports leagues and esports offer even more opportunities for DFS players at sites like DraftKings and FanDuel.

What Are The Top Daily Fantasy Contests Available?

Salary Cap

Salary Cap contests put a price on individual athletes. DFS players are allotted an overall budget in which to select a team of players.

At DraftKings, for instance, MLB contests start with a $50,000 salary cap to draft a team of 10 players. All players have a “salary”, with top players coming at the highest cost.

Most DFS contests involve the salary cap structure. The most skilled DFS players learn how to implement optimal strategies and assemble high-performing rosters within the salary cap limits.

Guaranteed Prize Pools

Guaranteed Prize Pool (GPP) contests offer by far the biggest potential payouts in the DFS realm. GPP contests pay only the top-performing teams, with usually around 20% of the player pool getting paid for a particular contest.

Both DraftKings and FanDuel offer weekly NFL GPP contests that yield a guaranteed $1 million payout to the winner. The first weekend of the 2019 NFL season saw DraftKings increase their Millionaire Maker prize pool to $10 million, with $2 million going to the winner. A second-place finish earned $1 million.

Cash Games

Cash games function as a lower-variance alternative to GPP contests. Cash games generally feature either a 50/50 (double up) format or a head-to-head structure.

The 50/50 format can involve large player pools, with the top 50 percent of the field doubling their buy-in.

Head To Head

Head-to-head contests also feature this double-or-nothing payout structure but involve a one-on-one matchup between two players.

Showdown/Single Game

Showdown, aka single-game contests, use a salary cap, but all players must be selected from a single game. Showdown Captain Mode contests require DFS players to choose one athlete as a “team captain” and that chosen player earns 1.5x fantasy points.

Prop Bets

Prop bets on DFS sites function much like a prop bet at a sportsbook. Prop bets usually involve a prediction on an individual player’s statistics throughout a game or season.

Leagues

DFS leagues operate much like a traditional fantasy sports setup. Leagues feature competition across an entire season, rather than a single game or week. Players can choose from private and public leagues on DFS platforms.

Tiers

Tiers contests divide all available athletes into different tiers. DFS players must choose one player from each tier when assembling a team. Tier contests do not use a salary cap.

What Are The Best DFS Bonus Offers And Free DFS Contests In The US?

DFS PlatformBonus OfferTerms & Conditions
DraftKings$20 Sign-Up BonusUpon making their first deposit at DraftKings, new players earn $20 in free playing credits
DraftKings20% Deposit Match Bonus up to $50025x playthrough requirement to earn the full bonus
FanDuel$5 Sign-Up BonusNew players earn $5 in free play after making their first deposit
FanDuel$10 Referral BonusRefer a new player to FanDuel and get $10 in free playing credits
MonkeyKnifeFight100% Deposit Match Bonus up to $501x playthrough requirement
PrizePicks25% Deposit Match Bonus up to $10001x playthrough requirement

Types Of Bonuses At DFS Sites

Deposit Match Bonuses

A deposit match offer awards bonus funds matching a certain percentage of a new player’s first deposit at a DFS site.

At DraftKings, for example, new players can unlock a 20% deposit match bonus up to $500. Up to $500 in bonus money can be earned using this offer.

For instance, a $2,500 deposit is eligible for the max $500 bonus, as $500 is 20% of $2,500. The DraftKings bonus requires a 25x playthrough to unlock the full bonus, meaning 25x of the original deposit amount must be played to earn the maximum bonus.

Sign-Up Bonuses

Both DraftKings and FanDuel offer free playing credits just for making a minimum deposit. New players signing up at FanDuel get $5 in free credits for making a $5 deposit or more.

Referral Bonuses

Bringing friends along to play at a DFS site can earn bonus money for each referral. FanDuel awards $10 in bonus credits every time a player brings another player to the site. The referred player must deposit funds for the bonus to be unlocked.

Free DFS Contests

Upon first deposit, new DFS players often receive free entries into various contests. These contests can vary depending on the time of year and which sports leagues are in session.

At DraftKings, for example, new players can get a $20 golf ticket, as well as a $3 ticket that can be used for any contest.

Free contests are also readily available at DFS sites and offer the chance to win cash prizes with no entry fee.

Are Daily Fantasy Sports Legal In The US?

List Of States With DFS Legislation

StateYear DFS Legalized
Alabama2019
Arkansas2017
Colorado2016
Delaware2017
Indiana2016
Iowa2019
Kansas2015
Louisiana2018
Maine2017
Maryland2018
Massachusetts2016
Mississippi2017
Missouri2016
New Hampshire2017
New Jersey2017
New York2016
Ohio2017
Pennsylvania2017
Tennessee2016
Vermont2017
Virginia2016

The Legality Of Daily Fantasy Sports In The US

The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA) effectively shut down online gambling in the US. The UIGEA outlawed internet-based gambling transactions in the US.

Fantasy sports were declared games of skill, however, and exempted from the UIGEA’s ban. With that language in place, individual states can decide their own stances on the legality of DFS sites.

In 2011, the US Department of Justice issued an opinion on the Federal Wire Act that cleared the way for individual states to offer state-regulated online gambling. Gambling transactions that cross over state lines, however, are still rendered illegal.

As DFS platforms offer games of skill, however, that ban on interstate gambling transactions doesn’t apply.

DFS Platforms Legal In More Than 40 States

Daily fantasy sports sites operate legally in more than 40 US states. About half of those states have legislation in place explicitly legalizing DFS platforms.

In most of those states, DFS operators must be approved and licensed by state gaming regulatory agencies.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, DFS operators apply for licensure from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Approved DFS operators pay $50,000 for a five-year license and are taxed at 15% of overall gross revenue.

DFS regulations are in place in 21 states. Lawmakers in these states drafted and passed legislation outlining explicit regulations, taxation, and oversight necessary to allow DFS operators to conduct business in their respective states. DFS platforms also operate in 19 other US states, with no explicit regulations in place.

DraftKings and FanDuel block players from Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Washington state for legal reasons that vary for each state.

History Of DFS In The US

Nationwide contests resembling modern DFS go back as far as the 1990s in the US. Modern DFS platforms began appearing on the US landscape in the late 2000s, with the UIGEA exemption for fantasy sports in place.

FanDuel debuted in July 2009, as an offshoot of Hubdub, a futures-market prediction game based out of Scotland. Several other DFS platforms launched over the next few years By the early 2010s the DFS format began its rise to the mainstream.

DraftKings debuted in February 2012. As the 2010s progressed FanDuel and DraftKings led the way as DFS evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Legal Hurdles For DFS In The US

New York

FanDuel and DraftKings temporarily suspended operations in New York in November 2015. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued a cease-and-desist order to both companies, under the opinion that the DFS platforms offered illegal gambling.

The legal battle over DFS legality in New York continued until August 2016, when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed off on a bill explicitly legalizing DFS in the Empire State. Under the new law, DFS platforms fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the New York State Gaming Commission.

New York became the seventh state to pass DFS legislation at the time, a trend that has continued through the latter half of the 2010s.

The smooth sailing for DFS platforms in New York hit a possible major snag in February 2020, however. The New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Division moved to overturn much of the language from the August 2016 DFS bill.

DFS sites can still operate in New York legally for now. The matter will now go to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. 

Louisiana

The Louisiana population has been at odds with state lawmakers regarding DFS legalization for several years.

State residents voted yes on a referendum to legalize DFS in Louisiana in November 2018. Approval of the bill from Louisiana legislature fell through, however, and as of 2020 Louisiana players still can’t access FanDuel or DraftKings.

Which Sports Are Offered In DFS Contests?

NFL

True to DFS roots in fantasy football, the most popular contests offered on DFS platforms revolve around the NFL.

The DraftKings Millionaire Maker and FanDuel Sunday Million stand among the biggest and most popular contests in the DFS industry. Both of these GPP contests run weekly during the NFL season, and both offer seven-figure prizes to the winner.

NBA

DFS contests surrounding the NBA draw big numbers, as the 82-game regular season presents numerous opportunities for leagues, as well as weekly and single-game contests.

Across all sports, the NBA draws the largest number of DFS players to league formats.

Major League Baseball

Much like the NBA, the 162-game MLB regular season offers an almost unlimited number of DFS contests.

As one of the most statistically intricate major sports, MLB opens up a world of complex strategy contests to DFS players.

NHL

Hockey fans have plenty to do at DFS sites, as contests surrounding the NHL play out on virtually all DFS platforms.

Like the NBA, the 82-game NHL season offers a myriad of ways to participate for DFS players.

College Sports

College basketball and football take place as some of the most beloved and popular sports in the US.

DFS platforms offer contests surrounding college sports with no restrictions in most states. With college programs numbering in the hundreds, DFS contests surrounding college football and basketball offer an almost unfathomable number of DFS opportunities.

NASCAR

NASCAR Sundays at DFS platforms offer racing fans the chance to get in the action and win cash prizes.

Individual sports like NASCAR offer many of the same DFS formats as team sports, including salary cap, head-to-head, GPP, and 50/50 contests.

Golf

The PGA Tour presents year-long opportunities for DFS contests. Along with NASCAR, golf presents some of the most popular ways to participate in DFS contests surrounding individual sports.

International Soccer

DFS contests involving the English Premier League, German Bundesliga, and Spanish La Liga stand at the center of DFS contests surrounding the world’s most popular sport.

Like US-based team sports leagues, DFS contests involving soccer include the full gamut of formats, including GPP, 50/50, leagues, and single-game competition.

Other International Sports

Soccer represents just a small sample of the international leagues and individual sports offering DFS contests.

International baseball and basketball leagues join sports like Australian Rules Football as team sports offering DFS contests. Overseas MMA and boxing events present even more opportunities to play DFS contests surrounding international sporting events.

Esports

DFS platforms offer a robust number of ways to participate in contests revolving around esports.

League of Legends, CounterStrike: Global Offensive, Rocket League, and Call of Duty represent some of the games involved in the most popular esports DFS contests.

Relationship Between DFS Operators And US Sports Leagues

Major US sports leagues started entering official business partnerships with FanDuel and DraftKings as DFS exploded in popularity in the mid-2010s.

FanDuel and the NBA agreed to a partnership in 2014, with the NBA taking an equity share in FanDuel. In return, FanDuel enjoys advertising access on NBA products.

DraftKings agreed to similar deals with Major League Baseball (in 2013) and NHL (in 2014).

For much of the 2010s, no official partnership existed between the NFL and either of the major DFS platforms. But both FanDuel and DraftKings have partnerships in place with various individual NFL franchises.

In 2019, DraftKings signed an exclusive deal to become the NFL’s official daily fantasy sports partner.

The Walt Disney Company, parent company to ESPN, acquired 21st Century Fox in March 2019. With that acquisition, Disney also took ownership of a stake in DraftKings, with that stake owned by Fox before the acquisition.

Fox Corporation spun off into its own company after the acquisition, not owned by Disney. FOX Sports and The Stars Group operate in partnership of the FOX Bet sports betting brand, and The Stars Group is owned by Flutter Entertainment, FanDuel’s parent company.

Daily Fantasy Sports FAQ

What are the biggest DFS contests in the US by participants?

The DraftKings Millionaire Maker and the FanDuel Sunday Million lead the way as the most popular DFS contests in the US.

Both of these guaranteed prize pool contests operate weekly during the NFL season. These GPP tournaments can each draw hundreds of thousands of entrants, with seven-figure cash prizes awaiting the winner.

The grand prize in these weekly GPP events can sometimes reach the $2 million mark.

What are the largest prize pool DFS contests in the US?

Because of the massive fields that come out for the biggest weekly NFL GPP tournaments, the DraftKings Millionaire Maker and the FanDuel Sunday Million both offer some of the largest total prize pools for any US DFS contest.

The DraftKings Millionaire Maker has boasted a total prize pool of $10 million at times, with an entry cap allowing more than 500,000 entrants to vie for the cash.

The FanDuel Sunday Million offers similar massive prize pools, entry caps, and grand prizes.

Is DFS the same as sports betting?

No. DFS contests are legally defined as games of skill, versus sports betting’s status as a legalized form of gambling.

DFS contests involve the assembly of a roster of players, with the aim of scoring fantasy points in competition with other players. Sports betting pits the bettor against the house, with the bettor attempting to pick winning bets.

What is the difference between DFS and traditional fantasy sports?

Traditional fantasy sports usually revolve around a league format, in which a small group of participants draft teams. Those teams then compete against each other throughout a sports league’s season, with a champion crowned at the end of the season.

DFS contests involve a similar assembly of a roster, with the goal of scoring fantasy points. DFS contests, however, can involve thousands of players, massive prize pools, and large public leagues and contests.

Do I have to pay taxes on DFS winnings?

Yes. On annual DFS net profit of $600 or more, DraftKings and FanDuel are obligated by law to send a 1099-MISC tax form to both the player and the IRS.

Is DraftKings legal in every state?

No. DraftKings legally operates in more than 40 states, with around half of those states having legislation in place explicitly legalizing daily fantasy sports.

DraftKings does not legally operate in Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Washington state.

Is FanDuel legal in every state?

No. Like DraftKings, FanDuel operates legally in more than 40 US states, but some states explicitly outlaw the operation of DFS platforms.

Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, and Washington state make up the list of states in which FanDuel doesn’t operate.

Will DFS become explicitly legal in every US state?

Not likely. Of the more than 40 states in which DFS platforms operate, about half allow access to sites like FanDuel and DraftKings without explicit regulations in place. It could take several years, if ever, for all of these states to regulate DFS explicitly.

In states which have outlawed DFS platforms entirely, the road to legalization is even more unclear.

Can I play DFS contests for esports in the US?

Yes. Esports contests surrounding Rocket League, Call of Duty, League of Legends, CounterStrike: Global Offensive, and other games are widely available on DFS platforms.

How old do I need to be to play Daily Fantasy Sports?

18. In all states in which DFS platforms legally operate, players must be at least 18.

DFS sites like DraftKings and FanDuel require verification of age and identity to deposit and withdraw money from the sites.

About the Author

Geoff Fisk

Geoff Fisk is a San Diego-based writer, specializing in the poker and gambling industries. He’s written for numerous platforms and has traveled the globe as a live poker tournament reporter. Geoff’s interests include the legal online poker industry in the U.S. and abroad.