Daily Fantasy Sports Guide
Tens of millions of Americans play daily fantasy sports (DFS) every week.
DFS contests are the high-speed version of season-long fantasy sports, pitting instantly created teams against one another over periods of a day or a single game instead of an entire season.
The basics are still about players building teams of athletes and using the athletes’ game stats to compete against one another. But the drafting, research and planning of lineups is a whole new – and exciting – ball game.
Best Daily Fantasy Sports Sites in 2021
The following DFS operators are market leaders, offering the best contests and the most reliable software:
1. DraftKings – Get $20 Free
DraftKings is the world’s largest daily fantasy sports operator. It’s accessible to most US sports bettors via Apple and Android apps or through its full desktop platform.
DraftKings offers hundreds of DFS contests with guaranteed prize pools, qualifiers and head-to-head contests. It also features a variety of formats, including 50/50 tournaments that pay half the field, multipliers paying a smaller percentage and leagues that players can either join or start themselves.
DraftKings’ sports offerings include the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB. You can also find college sports, overseas leagues and esports. DraftKings hosts the largest player pool and the biggest guaranteed prize pool contests in the US.
DraftKings’ software is also generally considered the most responsive and flexible in the industry.
2. FanDuel – Get $5 Instantly, $5 on Deposit
FanDuel was the country’s first DFS leader and is still considered #1a to DraftKings’ #1 DFS site. The site pays out more than $1 billion in prizes annually. Its software, available through a browser-based client and mobile app, is clean and functional.
While its contests are slightly smaller than DraftKings, many consider FanDuel as the DFS innovator. FanDuel is continuously adding new game formats. Innovations include single-game and beginner contests, contest-entry limits, advanced entry, late swap and third-party software blockers.
FanDuel is the only alternative to DraftKings in terms of contest size. Its commitment to innovation keeps FanDuel a DFS fan favorite.
PrizePicks is more like betting props than DFS. The difference is PrizePicks asks players to pick the over/under on fantasy points rather than the stat line. It’s sort of a combination of prop betting and DFS using DFS stats.
PrizePicks ask contest entrants to choose between two to four players and the over/under on their projected fantasy score. Payouts are up to 10 times the entry fee, depending on the number of picks. PrizePicks offers contests for a variety of sports, including the four major US leagues.
What is Daily Fantasy Sports?
Fantasy sports gives fans the chance to play general manager by putting together teams that competes against friends, foes and other sports fans based on how the athletes perform in real life.
That’s what has helped make season-long fantasy sports leagues attractive to millions for decades. The chance to make essential lineup decisions and the thrill of head-to-head competition are significant parts of fantasy sports’ appeal.
DFS multiplies these factors exponentially. It boils down the excitement of season-long fantasy sports into a single night’s lineup of games. Then, it allows you to do it over again the next day.
Still, DFS is a lot like season-long fantasy sports. Players create the teams, make all the lineup decisions and try to outscore opponents. The only real difference is the time frame. But that’s a big difference.
Modern sports fans thrive on immediate, accelerated gratification, which makes DFS the perfect accompaniment to a night of game viewing.
DFS contests often involve a small slate of games or just a single game itself. Either way, it has quickly become a fast and fun way to enhance the sports-watching experience.
DFS vs. sports betting
There has always been a fine line between DFS and sports betting. Some say DFS is another way to “bet” on sports. Others suggest the ability to put together lineups filled with the top-performing athletes over a short time under a salary cap is a unique skill.
DFS proponents say it’s not gambling. And DFS is most certainly not single-game wagering. Instead, DFS players bet on the statistical performance of individual athletes, which is something sportsbooks let you do through props.
Betting on one team to win a game over another remains the exclusive territory of legal sportsbooks. And, that’s the main difference between DFS and sports betting.
Of course, DFS sites like PrizePicks have blurred these lines slightly, allowing players to essentially bet over/unders on props they may also find at a legal sportsbook.
Is Daily Fantasy Sports legal in the United States?
DFS is legal and regulated in over two dozen states, and that number is continually increasing. And although several states have yet to define a position on whether DFS is gambling, most of these states either allow DFS operators to do business by ignoring the activity or dare them to test the state’s resolve.
DFS is only illegal in Arizona, Montana and Washington state. Most DFS operators avoid Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, and Nevada as well, since the attorney general in each has expressed negative opinions about it.
So overall that puts it at over 40 states where Daily Fantasy Sports are an option for US players.
In the states where DFS operators are active, DraftKings and FanDuel dominate. These two are in close to 80% of states with DFS activity and hold more than 90% of the market share.
How to play daily fantasy sports
Playing most DFS contests involves building lineups based on the specific parameters of the contest. These parameters may include things like salary caps and positional restrictions.
DFS operators assign fictional salaries to athletes based on performance and the contest salary cap. They also set the number of entries, and an individual can submit for each contest. Once a team is built, the athletes in that lineup accrue points based on actual real-world performance.
Scoring systems vary, but there’s a certain level of standardization across most DFS operators. Basic DFS contests follow several formats, including:
- Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs): Players pay a set entry fee to compete for a share of a guaranteed prize pool. Most pay the top 18%-25% of the field from a top-heavy payout structure that guarantees the winner walks away with a hefty sum.
- Leagues: DFS operators offer both private and public leagues with generally smaller prize pools compared to GPPs. These are the closest thing to the original season-long fantasy leagues.
- Head to Head: Head-to-head contests pit two people against each other with the highest-scoring lineup winning the entire prize pool. Of course, the DFS operator will take a small percentage.
- 50/50: 50/50 contests are like GPPs with no guarantee and no big winner. Instead, these contests pay the top 50% of the field an equal amount.
- Tiers: Salary-cap free contests that group players together in pre-set tiers instead.
- Beat the Score: Build a lineup that surpasses a pre-set scoring total for a share of the prize pool.
- Showdown Captain Mode: Position-less DFS allowing players to build their team any way they like and designate a “captain” that accrues points at a higher rate.
- Single Game: A DFS contest that uses only athletes playing in one single game, like the Super Bowl.
- Parlay, Prop and Prediction Fantasy Sports: Much like betting props at a sportsbook, several sites offer a variety of DFS-style formats for this type of wagering.
What sports are available in DFS?
- NFL DFS
- NBA DFS
- MLB DFS
- Golf DFS
- NASCAR DFS
- Soccer DFS
NFL contests are far and away the most popular DFS contests available. That means both bigger prize money and increased competition.
FanDuel and DraftKings offer a wide variety of contest types, prize structures and price points when it comes to NFL DFS. The most popular are big-field GPP tournaments with top-heavy payout structures.
For the most part, these contests involve putting together lineups with a basic salary-cap structure comprised of:
- 1 QB
- 2 RBs
- 3 WRs
- 1 TE
- 1 “Flex”
- 1 defense/special teams
NFL DFS also involves head-to-heads, double-ups and 50/50 contests. An NFL GPP strategy involves trying to predict individual performance as well as DFS usage or ownership rates in creating lineups that are both high-performing and unique.
FanDuel scoring is relatively basic as it awards points for yardage and scores. DraftKings also offers bonuses for reaching different benchmarks.
- Claim your $20 free and play NFL DFS at DraftKings
- Claim your $5 free + $5 on deposit and play NFL DFS at FanDuel
NBA contests are also among the most popular DFS contests. FanDuel and DraftKings both offer a variety of contest types, prize structures and price points when it comes to NBA DFS. Once again, the majority are big-field GPP tournaments with top-heavy payout structures.
These contests involve putting together lineups with a basic salary-cap structure comprised of eight or nine roster positions. Usually, this includes:
- 1 PG
- 1 SG
- 1 SF
- 1 PF
- 1 C
- 1 Flex G
- 1 Flex F
- 1 Utility
Nine-man contests involve two players from each guard and forward position and one center. NBA DFS also involves various other contest types, including head-to-head play.
Scoring is relatively basic as it awards points for field goals, free throws, rebounds and steals. Points are deducted for turnovers. DraftKings also offers bonuses for 3-point shots and statistical milestones like double-doubles and triple-doubles.
- Claim your $20 free and play NBA DFS at DraftKings
- Claim your $5 free + $5 on deposit and play NBA DFS at FanDuel
MLB DFS section
The original fantasy sport, MLB contests are widely available among the most popular DFS operators. FanDuel and DraftKings offer an assortment of contests and leagues with different prize structures and price points when it comes to MLB DFS.
This includes big-field GPP tournaments with top-heavy payout structures and leagues that are akin to season-long fantasy. MLB GPPs involve putting together lineups with a basic salary-cap structure that is comprised of various pitchers and hitters. Leagues often use a “snake draft,” limiting player usage.
Scoring is relatively basic as it awards points for various pitching and hitting statistics. DraftKings scoring is a little more complicated, deducting points for pitchers who give up hits and walks, and awarding bonuses for things like a complete game.
Pitchers who win and put up a lot of strikeouts are the top-scoring players in MLB DFS.
- Claim your $20 free and play MLB DFS at DraftKings
- Claim your $5 free + $5 on deposit and play MLB DFS at FanDuel
How to play DFS for free and real money
Signing up for an account with popular DFS operators, like FanDuel and DraftKings, is a a simple process. You can complete this process entirely on your phone or computer and only a minimal amount of personal information is required.
Entering real-money contests and leagues may also require you to make a deposit. Fortunately, that’s an easy process as well. DraftKings and FanDuel both accept major credit and debit cards as well as third-party payment processor PayPal.
You can also get started on FanDuel and DraftKings by playing regular freeroll contests and taking advantage of the various promotions that both sites run.
How to win at daily fantasy sports
Winning a DFS contest is no easy task. To get the job done, you have to compete against hundreds of lineups entered by thousands of players.
In fact, the biggest DFS contests draw top professional DFS players with deep pockets. They enter the maximum number of entries, which are often created by algorithms designed to maximize scoring and create unique lineups.
If you’re new to DFS, stick to beginner DFS games. Gather as much advice, information and news as you can before setting up your lineups. Only move up in stakes when you’re proving yourself profitable.
Winning a DFS contest at the beginner levels is also very possible. If you want to win playing DFS, start with these five strategies:
1. Stick to low stakes
Stick to low-stakes contests filled with players who don’t take the time to do any real research. Why compete with the pros if you don’t have to?
2. Develop a contrarian approach
It’s not enough to fill your team with the best athletes. You’ve got to find ways to make sure your lineups aren’t the same as everyone else’s.
Bringing a contrarian attitude toward lineup building will breed success. You can see which players your competitors are using most through the stats in your DFS app; try to find value picks elsewhere.
3. Play with the house money
The 50/50 contest offers a great way to build a bankroll playing DFS with a lower risk than GPPs. You’ll only double your money when you win, but that adds up over time. Play with the house’s money in GPPs by collecting it in 50/50s.
4. Do the research
Researching your lineups is a must. Fantasy sports is very popular so there’s a lot of information dedicated to it all over the internet every day. Do your homework, find out what the rest of the world is thinking and use it to develop your specific DFS strategy.
5. Try submitting multiple lineups
Using a single lineup gives you just one chance to win. Multiple lineups require more money and a little time to build, but they give you a few more chances at winning.
Here are three things you should never do when playing DFS:
- Ignore Injury Reports: News and information are a DFS player’s best friend.
- Do What Everybody Else Does: You need to know who other players are drafting, then find a way to go against the grain.
- Play with the Pros: Your knowledge of sports and ego might make you think it’s time to take on the pros. Don’t. They’re putting more time into DFS than you. Swallow your pride and practice proper game selection by going after weaker fields and heads-up opponents.
DraftKings vs. FanDuel vs. PrizePicks
Sites like PrizePicks have positioned themselves as alternatives to DFS operators like DraftKings and FanDuel. The differences are quite noticeable.
PrizePicks is more like betting over/under props than entering traditional DFS contests. The only real similarity with the DFS contests you find on DraftKings and FanDuel is that the contests are scored based on player stats.
PrizePicks is a lot more like traditional sports betting than DraftKings and FanDuel will ever be. The differences lie in the presentation and the fact these sites positions themselves as a fantasy sports game of skill as opposed to gambling.
Is DFS legal in the US?
DFS is legal and regulated in two dozen states and counting. It also operates in a gray market in most others that have yet to act on DFS legislation. DFS is strictly illegal in only three states: Arizona, Montana and Washington state.
How many people play DFS in the US?
Tens of millions of people play DFS contests in their favorite sports. The busiest DFS contests revolve around the NFL and draw hundreds of thousands of entries every week.
Is DFS gambling?
There are certainly some similarities between DFS and sports betting. The big difference is that sports betting surrounds game results, whereas DFS is based on a collection of individual player statistics.
Whether DFS is just another form of sports-based gambling, like traditional sports betting, is debatable. The DFS community claims it as a game of skill, as building winning lineups requires a certain ability.
What is the best DFS app in the US?
DraftKings and FanDuel are the top two DFS apps in the business. It comes down to individual preference as to which is best.
What are the best DFS games to play?
We can say with certainty that the NFL DFS contests are the biggest and most popular. But when it comes to which contests you should play, it depends on your experience level. If you are new to DFS, stick to 50/50 NFL contests. You won’t win big, but you can build a bankroll.
Once you become an experienced DFS player, you should still keep earning profits in the 50/50s. However, you should start using a small percentage of your profits to take shots in GPPs where the right lineup could make you hundreds of thousands of dollars.
How hard is DFS?
Playing DFS is easy — basically. However, anyone that tells you that winning is easy is lying.
The biggest DFS winners are the biggest DFS players. Big contest winners fire the maximum number of lineups into a contest to cover as many outcomes as possible. That requires you to put a lot of money into DFS. Pros see it as an investment. For amateurs, it’s a major barrier to success.
They also use advanced software and uniquely designed algorithms to create unique and profitable lineups. Competing against that is downright hard. Fortunately, there are 50/50 and beginner contests where amateurs can compete on a more level playing field. You may not become a millionaire playing DFS, but you can be profitable and enjoy the experience immensely.