Luck and Skill: Daily Fantasy Sports

By Ari Gilberg


In order to be successful you need to have two things – you need to be skilled in some sort of craft, and you need to have a little bit of luck. The two are intertwined. There has never been a successful individual who didn’t possess some sort of skill, and there has never been a successful individual who also didn’t get a little lucky along the way.

In 2008, the New York Giants were extremely skilled on defense – in fact, they finished the regular season ranked seventh in total defense and led the league in sacks with 53, according to ESPN. Their defense was a major factor in upsetting the 17-0 New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

However, it wasn’t the only factor.

Despite being a lifelong Giants fan, it would be foolish not to mention the Giants were also a little lucky in their Super Bowl win.

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They needed Eli Manning to somehow escape a swarming pass rush and fire down the field into tight coverage in the direction of his fourth-string wide receiver David Tyree. They then needed Tyree, who had one of the worst practices of his career leading up to the Super Bowl, come up with arguably the most unbelievable catch in Super Bowl history, pinning the football to his helmet as he fell to the turf. Lastly, they needed to survive a potential game-winning drive led by future first ballot Hall of Famer Tom Brady.

If any one of those things fails to happen, the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl and become only the second team in NFL history to complete a perfect season. Yet, by both skill and luck, the Giants pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history and went home victorious.

So why are we taking a trip down memory lane? Earlier this week New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman ordered a cease-and-desist letter to daily fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel.

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Schneiderman argues that because DraftKings and FanDuel operate on typically one day, or one week, of play, unlike traditional season-long fantasy sports competitions, they should be considered gambling because they involve more luck than they do skill, according to the New York Times.

FanDuel has already suspended play in New York, while DraftKings is attempting to hold out for as long as possible.

Both DraftKings and FanDuel have argued that their daily fantasy games are games of skill, similar to traditional season-long competitions, and isn’t solely a game of chance.

The truth is daily fantasy sports games involve both. There isn’t much difference between daily fantasy sports competitions and season-long fantasy competitions. While one must be more active during season-long competitions and continue to update his roster, there is still plenty of skill involving daily fantasy sports.

The basis of daily fantasy games is you are allotted a certain amount of money and need to create a starting lineup of players using that sum. The trick is the cost of each player varies based on their past and projected production, so you can’t simply purchase all the best players because you don’t have enough money to do so. Thus, the skill involved is figuring out the best way to allot your money and which players to buy.

The premise is very similar to an auction-styled draft in season-long fantasy sports games, where you’re given a certain amount of money and you use it to bid on players throughout the draft. You can spend all your money on two-to-three star players, or spread it out evenly to build your team around a core of above average players.

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While, of course, there’s luck involved whenever it comes to fantasy sports, or just sports in general for that matter, the entire construction of building your team takes an extraordinary amount of skill.

New Yorkers are the most active daily fantasy sports players in North America, accounting for 12.8 percent of all players, according to the New York Times and Eilers Research LLC. Unfortunately, the most active daily fantasy sports players will now no longer be able to player the game they love.

I’ll leave you with this anecdote. Every year I’m the commissioner of a season-long fantasy football league consisting of friends from my hometown. One of my friends, Josh (will leave out his last name), has made it into the finals each of the past five years – winning it all twice.

Less than a month ago he decided to try daily fantasy games, and has played on DraftKings – primarily football 50/50 leagues and Double Ups. Within three weeks he had made nearly $500.

Now, ask yourself, what’s more likely: Josh is simply skilled when it comes to fantasy football games, or for the past five years he’s just succeeded in fantasy football as a result of utter blind luck?



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