Fantasy sports sites allow Average Joes like you and I to put on our manager caps and run our own teams. Daily fantasy sports sites offer the closest experience compared to traditional sports betting. If you work in an office (or really anywhere with other people), the odds are you’ve heard people talking about their fantasy teams.
But, things have changed. Now, there are numerous websites and mobile apps that offer daily fantasy sports betting. The best part of all is that you can play for real money online… and it’s all legal (in most states, more on that below). Below are the best DFS sites:
Fantasy Sports Sites We Recommend
After the UIGEA was passed, we saw multiple fantasy betting sites pop up in the United States. Two of those daily fantasy sites became the biggest and those are the brands that we recommend first. Here’s a little about each site and why recommend them:
FanDuel – FanDuel.com opened for business in 2009 and quickly grew to become one of the biggest players in the fantasy betting market. FanDuel.com is based in New York City and has a solid reputation for processing payments and running fair events.
At FanDuel, you have two options for participating in events. You can either join competitions that other people have started or you can create your own with your own rules. The buyins for these events range from $1 to $200 and even higher from time to time. Payouts for winning bets vary based on the rules of the event and the number of people registered.
DraftKings – DraftKings.com is a Boston-based company that that hosts daily fantasy matchups every day of the week in a variety of sports. The main focus at DraftKings is on the NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA basketball and NCAA football. One thing you’ll like about DraftKings is that the website is super easy to use. You don’t even need to log in to see all open competitions and or to practice drafting your own team.
Deposits and withdrawals are processed via credit cards, debit cards (including prepaid gift cards) and PayPal. When you withdraw your earnings, DraftKings.com sends the money back to whatever you used to deposit in the first place.
DraftKings also hosts several major promo events every season for each sport. During the last baseball season, for example, they hosted a $200 tournament with a guaranteed first place prize of $125,000. That is some serious money for fantasy sports.
Which states allow daily fantasy sports?
Daily Fantasy Reviews
Choosing the best daily fantasy site requires some consideration, but it is hard to get it totally wrong as long as you stick with well-known names in the industry. If all else fails, it is always a safe bet to just go with DraftKings or FanDuel. Both sites are highly respected and are home to the biggest variety of contests anywhere on the internet.
However, it never hurts to take a little time and consider what you need as an individual fantasy player. In doing so, you can find the fantasy site that best suits your personal needs. Let’s take a look at a few factors worth considering when looking for a new DFS home.
Big Vs. Small
You can broadly categorize today’s fantasy betting sites as either “big” or “small.” Big sites include the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings. These sites have the largest user bases, greatest selection of leagues and the largest cash prizes. It’s always worth at least keeping an account open at one of the big sites because you’ll always have a large selection of leagues to choose from.
One of the primary advantages offered by big sites apart from volume is the chance to win life-changing amounts of money. For example, last year the two biggest sites each hosted multiple contests that awarded $1,000,000+ prizes to the grand champions. If you manage to pick the perfect team for a major contest, you can actually become a millionaire on the spot. That’s an opportunity that simply isn’t found at smaller sites.
Larger sites provide the largest potential reward for your dollar. The tournaments at major fantasy sites can attract thousands of entrants and potentially return five-figure payouts in tournaments with buyins under $20. Yes, it’s harder to win in large tournaments but big sites also host smaller contests with limited numbers of entrants.
Smaller fantasy sites do have their own advantages though. Here’s something you might not know – federal legislation requires all prizes to be made known before the tournament begins. Furthermore, prizes must not be determined by the number of entrants in a contest. This means every single contest you compete in has a guaranteed prize pool.
The advantage here is that smaller sites sometimes host tournaments in which the total sum of buyins is less than the guaranteed prize pool. All you former poker players out there will recognize this as an “overlay.” It means you’re playing for a bigger prize than what the number of entrants can justify. This results in increased value for your dollar.
Major sports leagues are covered by all major fantasy betting sites. The NFL, MLB and NBA are the big-three that are covered almost universally. If your primary focus will be on one of the major professional North American leagues, you ca play pretty much anywhere you want.
Other leagues might require more looking around. For example, the PGA is covered by DraftKings but not by FanDuel. NASCAR, MMA and other leagues are sometimes covered by smaller sites trying to carve out their own little niche in the already-competitive daily fantasy market. You can check out any of our reviews to see which site covers which leagues or refer to the chart below.
Reputation is always something to consider when looking for a place to participate in real money leagues. Although most daily fantasy sites are legitimate places to play, it never hurts to do a little research and see what you can dig up. The industry is not regulated, and no licenses are issued by any sort of official governing body.
This is one of the reasons I tend to stick with bigger sites for my fantasy needs. Large sites didn’t get large by accident. They got there by giving players a fair game and paying winners quickly. Plus, larger sites are more likely to be financially stable than smaller sites that are just getting started.
It’s amazing what you can find about a site with a few well-executed Google searches. You can also check out our fantasy reviews to read up on what we think about all the major names in online fantasy. We don’t recommend sites that we wouldn’t play at with our own money.
Most states have since passed laws to formally legalize fantasy sports contests. However, some state laws could possibly be interpreted to apply to all forms of online wagering. Customers from the following states are not accepted by most DFS sites.
DFS Bonuses and Promotional Offers
Apart from massive advertising campaigns, one of the primary ways in which fantasy sites compete for your business is through the use of bonuses and promotions. All the major sites are already handing out bonuses worth hundreds of dollars in return for customers signing up and trying a few real money leagues.
Are fantasy bonuses a good deal?
Yes. Although all bonuses come with fine print, most are a good deal. You get extra cash in return for doing something that you probably would have done anyways. A deposit bonus just makes the deal a little sweeter for the new player.
If you have any intent on participating in real money leagues, you might as well get a bonus while you’re at it. You can play in games like you would have anyways while slowly releasing the bonus cash. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Free Entry to Daily Fantasy Leagues
Free entry promos let you participate in certain contests without paying the buyin like you normally would. Sometimes these are just small contests while other times you can join large tournaments with major prize pools.
It’s quite common to see free entry tickets offered as an incentive for depositing. For example, DraftKings has offered all new customers a free contest entry for years now as a thank you for making a deposit. Sometimes you even get free entries just for signing up. Back when I first joined DraftKings, they let me play in one $1 heads-up NFL league. It wasn’t the most valuable thing in the world, but it was nice because it gave me a chance to test the games there without depositing.
Frequent Player Points
Most fantasy sites have some sort of rewards program designed to encourage player loyalty. For example, FanDuel awards FanDuel Points (FDPs) every time you enter a game. These points add up over time and can be used to take advantage of other promos or enter paid contests for free.
Other Fantasy Promotions
Welcome bonuses are far from the only types of promotions you’ll encounter in your daily fantasy career. Sites are always coming up with some new promo or other as an incentive to keep you happy and active. Promos change all the time but you’ll be notified by e-mail whenever your site comes up with something new. The main thing to remember is that it is important to read all the details before you take up any offer. Read the fine print and make sure the promotion works with your budget and style of play.
Playing Daily Fantasy Sports For Real Money
Daily fantasy sports betting is a twist on those traditional fantasy leagues that you might have joined in the past. The biggest difference is that daily fantasy sports only last for a day (or a week in some cases). This allows you to place a bet, see how it all plays out and get paid that same day.
You can give it a try by visiting a website like FanDuel.com to see what types of competitions are available today. So if it’s NFL season, you’ll see a lot of open NFL fantasy bets. After you join the competition, you can select the players for your team. The only restriction is that you must stay within the salary cap.
Once you have your team, you’re all set. Just wait for the next games to play out and see how all the players on your fantasy team perform. You’ll rack up points as your players rack up stats in real life. You will win the bet if your team earns more points than everyone else.
Competitions can be set up in a variety of formats. You can go head-to-head against just one other person or you can join a tournament-style competition with up to 2,000 other people. Payouts will vary based on how the competition is set up. It might be winner-take-all in the case of head-to-head matchups or there might be prizes for the top performers in a bigger tournament-style event.
In any case, the goal is to get as many points as possible. You’ll have to pick your team carefully because you’re required to stay within the fantasy salary cap. That means you can’t just pick all the all-stars and cruise to an easy win. You’ll need to make the most of your salary to get a well-rounded team capable of racking up stats.
We have a full guide to getting started with fantasy sports. The following pages explain exactly how online fantasy sports betting works and where to get started with your first real money contest:
Are Fantasy Sports Sites Legal?
Yes. Daily fantasy is legal at the federal level and in most states. A handful of states with overly-broad gambling laws prohibit daily fantasy contests, but the majority of you reading this have nothing to worry about.
The only states that prohibit daily fantasy are:
A growing number of states are moving to legalize traditional sports betting as well, but daily fantasy has had a head start thanks to a special exemption from the UIGEA. The lawmakers who wrote the UIGEA specifically listed fantasy sports as exempt from the law.
The legal situation wasn’t always this cut and dry, though. Back when FanDuel and DraftKings were undergoing their first major growth phase around 2014-2015, they had to deal with major amounts of uncertainty in nearly every state.
For the most part, the major DFS sites took the approach of considering their contests to be games of skill and entered most states under that assumption. Multiple attorneys general ordered FanDuel and DraftKings to cease operations, and this initiated a multi-front legal battle that had both sites fighting for their very existence.
Both sites also initiated extensive state-level lobbying campaigns around this time hoping to shape the perception of lawmakers across the country. Around the same time, both sites went on a national advertising blitz to sear themselves onto the minds of sports fans.
These efforts worked for the most part and fantasy sites were able to gain access to most states thanks to a combination of lawmakers in some states passing DFS regulation and attorneys general in other states choosing not to step in. Only a few states today have laws on the books that clearly prohibit daily fantasy sports.
Types of Fantasy Contests Explained
Fantasy sports sites have introduced quite a variety of contest types over the years that we can generally classify into two major categories: cash games and tournaments.
Tournaments: Tournaments are fantasy contests that are difficult to win but which offer large payouts. Imagine playing in a large contest with thousands of players and a $50,000 payout for first place. That is the prototypical tournament-style contest.
These are very difficult games to win, but the rewards when you do win make it all worth your while. Tournaments require considerable patience and confidence as long stretches between notable wins are just a part of the game.
Payout structures in tournaments are top-heavy, which means you get the most for finishing in first place, a little less for finishing in second and so on down the line. Since the goal is to finish in as high a place as possible, tournament players tend to build volatile but high-ceiling lineups in a sort of go big or go home approach. You’ll need to take some risks when it comes to building lineups for tournaments.
Big tournaments frequently accept multiple entries per user, which means you can enter a variety of different lineups in an effort to find one that gets the job done. Of course, your opponents can do the same, and this means you’ll be facing stiff competition from an endless variation of lineups.
Types of Tournament Contests
- GPPs: The term GPP is thrown around a lot in daily fantasy circles to refer to guaranteed prize pool tournaments. Technically all DFS contests are guaranteed prize pool events, but generally the term refers to large tournaments with big prize pools.
- Freerolls: These contests have no entry fee but offer a real money payout to the winners – often used as an incentive for new customers to sign up or as a part of other promotional activities for existing customers.
- Satellites: Satellite contests award entry to a larger tournament in lieu of a cash payout. For example, bankroll limitations might have you enter a $5 satellite for a shot at winning entry to a $100 tournament that would otherwise have been too expensive to buy in directly.
- Tournaments: Some DFS sites use the term “tournament” to specifically refer to contests with 3-100 players. It tends to work that the biggest contests with the biggest prizes are called GPPs while smaller tournaments are just called tournaments.
- Beginners Only: DFS sites are required by law in some states to offer beginners only tournaments, which are only open to players who do not have much experience. For example, DraftKings hosts beginners only games which are only open to players who have played in 50 or fewer contests.
- Steps: Steps are a series of small tournaments with buyins that increase as you move up through each level. Each contest on the way up awards entry to the next level up until you get to the final step and play for a larger cash prize. You may buy in directly at any level or start from the bottom and work your way up.
Cash Games: Cash game contests are much easier to win and offer smaller payouts. Rather than looking to score the occasional massive win, cash game players are looking to book small, frequent payouts to generate a steady income.
Head-to-head contests and 50/50s are both classic examples of cash games. In each, you only need to outperform a limited number of people to guarantee a fixed payout. For example, imagine a 50/50 game in which 100 people enter. In this type of contest, you only need to place in the top 50% of the field to earn a payout of about double your entry fee.
Payout structures in cash games are flat, which means it doesn’t matter if you finish in first place or just barely squeak by to finish in the top half of the field. All that matters is you beat enough players to earn a payout. As such, players tend to draft lineups that are safe – the goal isn’t to finish in first place; it is to draft a lineup with the best chance possible of performing just well enough to earn a payout. There is no need to make risky plays in cash games.
Types of Cash Game Contests
- Head-to-Head: Play against a single opponent for a winner-take-all prize pool. You either win the contest and double your money (minus a little commission taken by the fantasy site) or finish in second place and lose your buyin.
- 50/50s: The goal in fifty-fifty and double-up contests is to place in the top 50% of the field and double your money. If 100 people enter, 50 people win double their money (minus commission) and 50 people go home empty-handed.
- Multipliers: Multipliers are based on the 50/50 model but offer payouts to a smaller portion of the field. For example, triple-ups offer a 3x payout to the top 33% of the field while quadruple-ups offer a 4x payout to the top 25% of the field.
Types of Drafts
All the above types of contests can also vary in how your lineup is constructed.
- Salary Cap: Most online fantasy games use the salary cap model for lineups. That is, you’re given a set amount of money to spend on players and then use that money to build the best team possible. In a salary cap game, drafting an athlete does not remove him from the pool for everyone else; all athletes are available to all contestants.
- Snake Draft: Snake drafts have been used in real-world fantasy leagues for years. In a snake draft, athletes who are drafted become unavailable to everyone else. The snake draft format keeps things fair by reversing the order of picks each round. This means the person who picks first in the 1st round will pick last in the 2nd round while the person who picked last in the 1st round will pick first in the 2nd
- Auction Draft: An auction draft works sort of like a snake draft, but rather than simply drafting an athlete when it is your turn, you nominate an athlete. The nominated athlete then goes on auction as you and the other GMs all bid on him. The highest bidder gets the athlete. This is a very strategic form of drafting because you have a limited salary and must choose very carefully not only who you bid on, but also who you nominate.
- Pick ‘Em: This term is not very well-defined, and you’ll find fantasy sites use it to describe all sorts of contest types. One type of pick ‘em contest introduced by DraftKings eliminates the salary cap altogether and instead presents you with a group of players for each position until you have filled out an entire roster.
Daily Fantasy vs. Traditional Sports Betting
The legalization of sports betting across the United States beginning in 2018 is giving a growing number of people the ability to choose between daily fantasy and legal sports betting for the first time in a long time. Some are going to be drawn to daily fantasy, some will be drawn to actual sports betting and many others are likely to dabble in a little of both.
There is a lot of crossover appeal between daily fantasy sports and traditional sports betting for obvious reasons. Both appeal to sports fans of course, both require knowledge of the game and your skill plays a large role in your results (as opposed to regular casino games which are almost always pure luck). In both, highly-skilled players can potentially generate a long-term profit.
There are also some major differences between the two that make each a unique experience. Some of those differences are obvious, others not so much. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the two are similar and some of the ways in which they differ.
Different: The Big Picture vs. Specific Outcomes
Daily fantasy tends to take a bigger picture approach. You’re not just betting on the outcome of a single game or how many points a single player will score in a game; you are going to be building a team of players from around the league – many of whom will be competing in different games.
Building a daily fantasy lineup means you’ll need to consider a variety of players, who they’ll be playing against, how much each player will cost to add to your lineup and more depending on how strategic you want to get.
Sports betting also requires a wide knowledge base, but individual wagers are much more specific in nature: Will the Broncos win tomorrow? How many points will be scored in tonight’s NBA game? It takes just as much skill to do well in sports betting overall, but each individual bet deals with a much narrower focus compared to drafting a full lineup.
Similar: You Compete Against Other People
Daily fantasy sports and traditional sports betting both put you in competition against other people. People often say sports betting is played against the house, which although true to an extent, does not take into account all the other bettors out there who are also researching their wagers, placing bets and impacting the lines.
On the other hand, the competition is definitely much more in your face when it comes to daily fantasy. You’ll actually see and compete in games with other people in a fantasy contest. Sports betting is a much more solo type of activity.
Different: Daily Fantasy is Legal in More States
Sports betting is quickly catching up to daily fantasy in terms of where it’s legal, but DFS still has the win in this regard. We always urge readers to stay away from offshore betting sites, but even if you do choose to ignore that advice, you will still find it quite inconvenient making deposits and getting paid. Daily fantasy is the more convenient form of sports gaming in most states.
Similar: Skilled Players Can Generate a Consistent Profit
Sufficiently skilled players can generate a consist profit in both DFS and sports betting. This is much easier said than done, of course, but it is possible unlike traditional casino games such as slots and baccarat. Even if you have no intention of ever being anything other than a recreational sports bettor, it’s still nice to know that you can be rewarded for smart decisions rather than for dumb luck.
Different: Sports Betting is Easier for the Casual Sports Fan
The vast majority of sports bettors and fantasy players are what we call casual players. They like to win, but it’s not their mission in life. For these casual sports fans, traditional betting is by far the easier and more convenient way to get some money on the line. There is a much lower time investment when it comes to researching a single wager as opposed to drafting an entire lineup.