The rules will vary from site to site, but the daily league format is merely a snapshot of the NBA season. You own a team for one night and one night only. There's no drafting teams in the offseason, and no waiting through injuries and slumps. And there's no need to wait until the end of the NBA season to collect on your winnings.
Just ask Eric Wong, founder of the subscribers-only fantasy basketball Web site RotoEvil.com. In just the month of March, Eric has won nearly $15,000 using the popular daily-league Web site SnapDraft.com. Making him the month's money leader and, naturally, a changed man.
"Before this season, I refused to play in daily leagues. I'm not a huge fan of contests where everyone can own the same player, and I like the satisfaction of landing an excellent value pick on draft day and being rewarded for it all season long", Mr. Wong says. "I also felt that it required a lot less skill to win daily leagues compared to regular full-season leagues."
Of course that was before the winnings started to pile up.
"Personally, I've spent more time analyzing and following my daily teams this season than I have my 'regular' fantasy teams. It feels a little strange to say that, because I still prefer my good ol' season-long roto leagues," says Mr. Wong. "However, after a season of playing in daily leagues (all of which use the head-to-head format), I now question if I'll ever play in a 'regular' H2H league again. I mean, from a 'what have you done for me lately' standpoint, I've found daily head-to-head leagues to be way more profitable and enjoyable."
It would absolutely seem so from an outsider's perspective. However, with a little triumph certainly comes tragedy in the daily-league format. Mr. Wong recalls moments when he's lost $400, $600, and sometimes $800 in a single night. Simply put, though, you have to spend money to win money.
For those of you who are wondering about the legality of daily leagues, the site FanDuel.com spells it out in both short and long form. If you're looking for a quick explanation, it's simple: "fantasy sports is not considered gambling because it is a game of skill."
In long, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 established that fantasy sports leagues are not gambling operations. For one, fantasy operations can get away with doling out prizes as along as those prizes are announced prior to the start of the contest. Tying in with the "game of skill" argument, fantasy sports are based on statistical accumulation and not the outcome of the game in which these players play. So the score, point-spread and team performance do not matter in the world of fantasy sports. Hence, it is not considered gambling.
Bet or wager does not include "participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest in which (if the game or contest involves a team or teams) no fantasy or simulation sports team is based on the current membership of an actual team that is a member of an amateur or professional sports organization (as those terms are defined in section 3701 of title 28) and that meets the following conditions:I. Nelson Rose, a tenured professor at Whittier Law School and a leading expert in the field of gambling law, attributes the UIGEA as the single major reason why playing fantasy sports for money online is spreading. He told me that "everyone, including the states, looks at this exception and says that if the game meets the requirements it must be legal."
"(I) All prizes and awards offered to winning participants are established and made known to the participants in advance of the game or contest and their value is not determined by the number of participants or the amount of any fees paid by those participants.
"(II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.
"(III) No winning outcome is based --
"(aa) on the score, point-spread, or any performance or performances of any single real-world team or any combination of such teams; or
"(bb) solely on any single performance of an individual athlete in any single real-world sporting or other event.
Speaking with The Wall Street Journal, David Lowitz, the co-founder of the daily fantasy site 365FantasySports.com, said that the government gave 365FantasySports, and sites like his, a "path to walk down." Though I find it hard to believe that many thought we'd be sitting here talking about an unlikely, yet attainable opportunity to win close to $15,000 in a single month playing fantasy sports, I suppose it was inevitable. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association claims that 29.9 million people in the U.S. and Canada played fantasy sports in 2007. The step toward monetizing the sport to this degree was bound to happen.
While I'm not sure that daily leagues will ever trump the seven-month fantasy hoops season that we've all come to know and love, what it will do is up the ante. You no longer have to worry about playing in a 12-team league that will shrink in size as interest wanes once we hit the All-Star break. The daily-league format requires little commitment. It's the "one-night stand" of fantasy sports.
"[Daily leagues] give sports fans a chance to quench their fantasy thirst on any given day, without the grueling commitment of a marathon season. If you want more, [daily leagues] allow you to get as much stat/sport action as you can handle. If you want less, then you can simply pick and choose when you want to play and for how much. That's the beauty of it," explains Mr. Wong.
The strategy behind winning a substantial amount of money is actually quite simple: do your homework. Most leagues have nightly salary caps, as to avoid a 25-team tie with each roster consisting of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. You need to be more creative than that, and of course to take home the bank you need to have an up-to-date knowledge of what's happening in the NBA.
Mr. Wong has his own approach that he was willing to share with me. His strategy is to find the hot hand before it even knows it's hot.
"Most people who play fantasy sports wait for players to have at least one or two strong games before they even think about adding them, starting them, or picking them. But if you want to be ahead of the curve, then you must be prepared to go out on a limb sometimes. So rather than picking the red-hot player who everyone else is picking, why not gamble on someone who's due for a big game," he explains.
It's all about the anticipation. If you had a hunch that Darren Collison was going to score 17 points and dish 18 assists in the game following Chris Paul's major knee injury, then this game is for you. And if you had a hunch that Dwight Howard would put up seven points and five rebounds against the Miami Heat on February 28, then you should have signed up for a daily-league account months ago.
The daily-league format may never catch on with mainstream fantasy players, but you have to wonder if maybe that's for the best. While there is limited government regulation on playing fantasy sports online for money, the more Eric Wongs the sport creates the closer we may become to seeing some sort of higher authority stepping in and closely monitoring the exchange of money.
"I think you're right," says Professor Rose. "If an operator pushes it too far, law enforcement will step in."