26 Oct

DFS vs. Online Poker: Where is the Line between Skill and Gambling?

Daily Fantasy Sports and Online Poker Skill versus Gambling DebateFor years, advocates of online poker have argued that the game should be perfectly legal due to it’s being a ‘game of skill’. The majority of lawmakers in the US have failed to agree, maintaining its legal categorization as “gambling”. Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) has been declared a game of skill (although that may soon change), and many are now wondering what separates poker from DFS?

In reality, these popular betting opportunities have a great deal in common. Both poker games and DFS contests are played as a group of people competing against one another. They could be as small as a one-on-one, winner takes all competition, or could involve tens of thousands of people facing off in a single tournament.

Neither of these venues pits the participants against a ‘house’, wherein the odds are always stacked against the player (i.e. casino gambling, traditional sports betting, etc.). Online poker and DFS operators make their profit by taking a cut of the money being wagered. At poker cash games, a percentage of the pot is taken, known as the rake. In poker tournaments and DFS contests, a fee is collected from each entry.

On the surface, the only real difference between the two wagering sports is that one deals random cards to each player, while the other gives bettors the chance to hand-select players for their fantasy team, (with limitations of course).

When drafting a fantasy team, bettors are provided a set amount of money to spend on players. In turn, the DFS operator places a value on the head of each player, based on their performance in previous games. That factor alone has raised questions from those who don’t consider DFS to be a game of skill.

In poker games, everyone is dealt cards from the same shuffled deck. The random nature of the deal is designed to give all players the same odds of winning over time. That would be true, if it weren’t for the skill factor that gives pros a distinct advantage over inexperienced players, but we’ll talk more about that in a moment.

The real question is this: How is allowing DFS operators to set the value of each player any different than a sportsbook setting the odds for bets on individual contests?

By that comparison, if sports betting is gambling, wouldn’t it stand to reason that DFS should be categorized equally?

Role Reversal – DFS Gambling, Poker Skill

Another argument brewing and gaining a lot of steam is that, if either should be legally defined a game of skill, it’s online poker, not DFS. When you dig deeper into the logistics of the game, there is an unmistakable element of skill that determines which players will have the most long-term success.

Professional poker player, 2x WSOP bracelet winner and WPT Player of the Year Andy Frankenberger said it best in an interview with CNBC earlier this month. “A daily fantasy pro’s competitive edge over a beginner is nothing compared to the edge of a poker pro versus a first-time poker player.”

No matter how the cards are dealt, a pro can use other skillsets, like psychology, to undermine his opponents throughout the game. The pro knows when to fold a bad hand, just as he knows when to bluff with nothing, or go for broke on the nuts, easily defeating the novices at the table in the long term.

In daily fantasy sports, strategies can be implemented when selecting players, but once they are drafted, there are no additional skills to draw from. The selected players will either do well or they won’t. Great players might have a bad day, or get injured. Secondary players could step up and have a miraculous day on the field. Suffice to say, being experienced with DFS does not give such a distinct advantage over new bettors.