Ostrowski: Amid Controversy, Daily Fantasy Should Turn Negative Into A Positive

By Joe Ostrowski–

(CBS) This column usually provides advice on some of the top daily fantasy football plays for the upcoming weekend and reviews the million-dollar winning lineups from the previous week. But this week, the elephant in the room couldn’t be ignored.

Full disclosure: I endorse FanDuel on 670 The Score. I play daily fantasy on both FanDuel and DraftKings every week. I’ve tried other DFS sites, but they don’t measure up to the standard set by these sites.

Daily fantasy sports is great, but it has plenty of room to improve. It brings competition, strategy, a welcoming community, enjoyment, entertaining podcasts and the dream to win a lot of money. Unfortunately, the ad blitz has caused many to root against it.

If you don’t play daily fantasy, you probably think that a DraftKings employee winning $350,000 on FanDuel is a bigger deal than the serious DFS players believe it is. Both websites have announced that employees have been permanently banned from playing on any site.

DraftKings CEO Jason Robins has done multiple interviews strongly supporting his employee. The easy way out would’ve been to give the public their pound of flesh and blame everything on a rogue employee. Fire him. Problem solved. Nothing to see here.

Insider trading? Probably not, but we’ll probably never know. It’s always a concern when results of a “internal investigation” are discussed.

This DraftKings employee had access to ownership percentages on his company’s website, information that can be assumed to be similar on FanDuel, that helped him win $350,000. That’s led to criticism and rightfully so. Yet, with proper research, ownership levels in a large field tournament are rarely a surprise. Matchups, results of the previous week and obvious value plays make it easy to figure out.

If that isn’t enough, there are many articles written about the ownership percentages in FanDuel tournaments that start on Thursdays. These are looked at because once a contest starts on this site, lineup changes aren’t allowed. These numbers are fairly close to the Sunday contests, if you include an uptick with the absence of the Thursday players.

A big concern is whether lineups of the top players are available to employees to browse before lineups lock. “Maxdalury” is the No. 1 player, according to rotogrinders.com. This player finished in sixth and seventh place of the tournament in question, but four of the nine players rostered were different than the DraftKings employee’s lineup.

Every week, this column breaks down the winning lineups. The lesson has been that there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Popular plays, unique correlations and a mix have all won players millions. Using players who will have low ownership means many times the lineup will be a waste of money.

Is daily fantasy gambling or a game of skill? Technically, it’s not gambling, and you won’t catch a DFS CEO every say it is. It’s defined as a “game of skill” — and thus not technically considered gambling — and backed by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. Regulation could be on the way for DFS. But of course there’s an element of gambling in play.

Before ever playing daily fantasy, I thought this was 100 percent gambling. I just told you it’s gambling. It’s also a game of skill. It doesn’t matter how much you know about sports. There’s skill in game selection, lineup construction, spotting value in a given week, going contrarian but also making smart plays, etc.

Daily fantasy needs to take a stand and figure out if it wants to favor the new players who are spending so much money to acquire or the sharks who spend thousands of dollars on contests every single day. Right now, games are heavily slanted toward the sharks.

Most players would be the first to tell you that it isn’t a level playing field. A new player might post 10 head-to-head matchups and a veteran will come along, see zero wins and scoop every single game. Why not prevent this?

In fairness, DraftKings does offer a matchup limiter. DraftKings and FanDuel both allow computer scripts. The new customer doesn’t know that. Most probably don’t know what scripting even is. It enables users to make changes to hundreds of lineups at a time, which is the kind of scripting they allow.

Scripting is invaluable when there’s late breaking news, but a very small percentage are able to take advantage of it. There’s a plug-in available that color codes opponents. Red means a lot of wins, stay away. Green means they are brand new. Every DFS player I’ve spoken to about this had no idea what I was talking about. So shouldn’t this be more public?

As these prize pools continue to increase, why not create flatter payouts? In the Millionaire Maker, seventh place receives $1.15 million less than first place. In the Sunday Million, seventh place receives $970,000 less than the top finisher.

Robins recently said that DraftKings has added nearly a million players in September alone. It only makes sense that he would want his new customers to have a great experience and return instead of leaving after their initial deposit.

There’s a DFS Players Bill of Rights that’s making the rounds on daily fantasy websites and forums. It was written by podcaster Michael Hofeld and Rotocurve’s Jake Brown.

This controversy has presented the daily fantasy world an opportunity to turn a negative into a great positive. Let’s hope it follows through once the talking heads stop talking.

Joe Ostrowski is an executive producer at 670 The Score and co-hosts “Chicago’s Fantasy Football Today” on Sundays from 8-9 a.m. CT. He also discusses fantasy football on The Laurence Holmes Show on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. CT on WSCR-670 and 670thescore.com/listen. Follow him on Twitter@JoeO670 and feel free to ask fantasy questions.

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