How Online Fantasy Sports Work

how to fantasyOnline fantasy sports betting is picking up steam in the United States. Sites like FanDuel and DraftKings are advertising all over the place and are growing at an incredible pace. Contests just keep on getting bigger and the prizes just get increasingly outrageous.

In the last NFL season, both FanDuel and DraftKings hosted multiple tournaments with million-dollar prizes going out to first place. One even gave away $2 million dollars to the first place finisher. We’ve seen paid trips to Las Vegas, the Playboy Mansion and more given out as prizes. Even at the height of the online poker boom in the United States, you didn’t see this kind of money flowing around. And fantasy sports is still in its infancy.

So, I figured now would be a good time to introduce the uninitiated to online fantasy sports betting. Even if you’ve played in office pools in the past, there are still a few key differences that you should know about when moving to the internet. This how-to guide to getting started is geared towards those of you with no experience with online fantasy at all. I’m going to walk you through the entire process from signing up for an account to winning your first fantasy contest.

The General Concept

The general concept of fantasy sports betting is to draft a team of players from around the league of your choice. FanDuel and DraftKings cover the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, college basketball and college football. DraftKings also covers the PGA.

All active players in the league are available for your team. What makes it challenging is each player has a virtual price tag and you have a virtual salary cap. This makes it impossible to draft a team comprised entirely of star players. You have to pick and choose very carefully to form a well-rounded team.

For example, let’s say your virtual salary cap is $50,000. If Peyton Manning costs $9,000, you’ll have to give up strength in some other key position. Drafting Peyton just took nearly 20% of your salary cap and you still have 8 more positions to fill.

Your fantasy team wins points as your draft picks accumulate stats in the real world. Touchdown passes earn points for your quarterback, turnovers earn points for your defense and so on. Your points total is tallied up after all the games have been played to completion. The person whose team earned the most points wins the contest.

What They Mean by Daily Fantasy

The key difference between online fantasy betting and your typical office league is daily fantasy contests are much shorter. When you play a fantasy league online, it does not last the entire season. Each contest typically lasts just a day, weekend or week.

This is a huge advantage over traditional season-long leagues because you can fine-tune your strategy and try different teams as the season progresses. You’re not locked in to one team that you have to pick before you’ve even seen a single play. An injury to a key player in a season-long league is devastating; an injury in a daily fantasy contest only ruins that one contest for that one weekend.

Types of Contests

Contests in fantasy sports must always cover at least two games. In the NFL, most contests cover all of Sunday’s games while other contests cover Sunday evening through Monday evening. Some contests also include Thursday games. Each fantasy betting site offers a whole plethora of contests for all different sports leagues, but all contests can generally be classified under two broad categories.

1. Heads-Up Competitions

Heads-up competitions pit you against one other person. You and your opponent each put up some cash, draft a team and then see whose team performs the best. The person with the most fantasy points at the end of the week/day wins the whole pot.

Entry fees range from $1 to $5300. If you play a $1 game, the total pot ends up being $1.80 after the fantasy site takes its commission. A $5300 game awards $10,000 to the winner.

2. Multi-Entry Tournaments

As the name suggests, these are contests that involve 3 or more participants. You might play a game with a total of three participants or a large tournament with thousands of other people. The bigger the tournament, the bigger the prize.

Tournaments are where you see the super-massive prizes. Some of the biggest events have $10 million prize pools with upwards of $2 million going to the first place finisher and the remainder of the money divvied up among the other high finishers.

Tournaments can also come in different sub-formats. Fantasy sites have guaranteed prize pool tournaments where the prize is no less than $X dollars, double-up tournaments where half the people win double their entry, triple-up tournaments where a third of the people win triple their entry and so on. There are quite a few options when you dig down into it.

In the beginning, I think it’s best to start with a cheap heads-up contest just to get a feel of the game. You can play in a quick $1 game against a single opponent without too much stress and a decent shot at winning. As the active games are playing, you can monitor the contest in real time and watch as both you and your opponent rack up points. It’s a lot of fun.

Getting Started

1. Choose a site and sign up for an account

DraftKings (review here) and FanDuel (review here) are my two top picks for fantasy sports betting. These are the largest fantasy sites by a long shot so go with one of those. I’ll be using FanDuel as the example for today but either choice is fine.

Go to and click the “join now” button.

They’ll need your name, email, a username and a password. The signup page will ask if you have a promo code but it’s not necessary. You get the same welcome promotions as everyone else whether you enter a code or not.

2. Make your first deposit

After you have an account and log in for the first time, this should be the first screen you see.

contest lobby

This is the main contest lobby, which I’ll explain more in the next step. For now, just click on the green “add funds” button in the top-right corner of the screen. This will take you to the main deposit page where you can choose how much you’d like to use to fund your account.

You may also see a countdown timer telling you to deposit within the next 10 minutes to get a bonus. Ignore it. It restarts every time you visit the deposit area.

deposit 1

At FanDuel, you can deposit with a credit card or PayPal. Since I already have a PayPal account, I chose that method. Choose an amount to deposit and then either type in your credit card information or click on the “pay with PayPal” link.

If you choose PayPal, you’ll be redirected to a PayPal screen that looks like this:

deposit paypal

Just log in to your PayPal account and then confirm the deposit. Finally, you’ll be taken back to the FanDuel website to a screen that says your deposit was a success. Your account is now loaded and ready to go. It’s time to play some fantasy sports.

deposit complete

3. Join your first contest

Click on the “lobby” tab at the top of the deposit success screen to return to the main contest lobby:

main contest lobby

Since today’s day NFL games have already started, I’m going to choose a contest that covers the Sunday evening through Monday evening games. Every player from every team participating in the Sunday and Monday evening games will be available.

Click on any contest from the lobby and it will bring up a summary screen that shows the basic details of the contest. This one is a $2 contest with a $60,000 virtual salary cap. Click on the green “enter” button to begin the draft.

contest summary

4. Draft your team

Now it’s time to make your draft picks. The screenshot below shows the screen in which you make your picks. You can click on any player’s names to see all the details of that player, including which team he’ll be playing against.

draft screen

For example, I could click on Cam Newton from the list above to see his statistics and latest news.

player details

This screen is important because it also talks about any potential injuries. I found out the hard way that it’s important to keep up to date. I drafted one team this week that included Jamaal Charles as one of my key players. I didn’t keep up to date on him after making the pick and he ended up sitting out the entire game. If I would have logged in the day before the game, I would have seen that he was listed as “questionable” and would have been able to adjust my roster.

Going back to the main draft screen, you can see how much each player costs and start making your picks. Here’s a quick look at a team I drafted just now for this guide:

my team

Your NFL roster will consist of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight-end, kicker and one entire team’s defense. This is where you have to balance between power and salary cap. It’s impossible to choose all the stars of the game and remain within the salary cap, so you’re forced to make tough decisions.

Clicking on the green “enter” button will confirm your team and deduct the entry fee from your account balance. You can come back any time to make adjustments to your team up until the beginning of the first game.

5. Wait a couple days

All you have to do now is wait for the games to play out. As the real-world counterparts of your fantasy team rack up stats in their games, your fantasy team is awarded points. If you score more points than your opponents, you win the contest and the prize money.

You can keep an eye on your stats in real time during games by logging in to your account and clicking on the “live” tab at the top. I find it fun to go watch the game, log in on my iPad and keep tabs on my fantasy team while watching the live action on TV.

Here’s an iPad screenshot of the live-scoring screen as seen in the middle of a large tournament:

ipad fanduel live

After all the games have been played, your final score is added up. Hopefully, you’ve outscored the competition and have a cash prize sitting in your account. All prizes are awarded automatically at the end of the last game. You can then use that money to enter more contests or withdraw it to your bank account.

Ready to Give it a Try?

Well, that about covers all the basics. You now have everything you need to get started with online fantasy betting. There’s still a whole world of fun, strategy and money to explore. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, I’d like to recommend two sites in particular: FanDuel is the largest of the two main fantasy sites. It typically has the largest contests and biggest prizes. If you sign up and make a deposit, they’ll give you bonus cash as a “thank you” for joining.

Visit: DraftKings is the second-largest fantasy site. It’s contests and prizes aren’t quite as big as what you’ll find at FanDuel, but you’ll still get to play for serious cash prizes and trips to exotic locations.

One thing I really like about DraftKings is when you’re drafting players, the screen shows each player’s opposing team’s defensive ranking. For example, let’s say I’m having a hard time choosing between Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. If I look over and see that Luck will be playing against the worst defense in the NFL while Manning will be playing against the best defense in the NFL, my decision just got a lot easier.



Is this legal in the United States?

Yes. Fantasy sports betting was specifically mentioned as an exception in the text of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act of 2006 (UIGEA). In a list of exceptions, the UIGEA says the following type of game is not considered a sports bet and is therefore legal:

             `(ix) 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) 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.

In other words, as long as the prizes are made known ahead of time and winners of wagers are not determined by scores, point spreads, performance of a single player or on a single game, it’s legal.

The major fantasy betting sites that we recommend here at are all headquartered in the United States and operate in full compliance of all state and federal laws.

Which states allow online fantasy sports betting?

Most states allow fantasy sports bets with a few exceptions listed below.

Fantasy sports state restrictions: Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada and Washington.

How much can I win?

There are no legal limits on how much money a person can win with fantasy sports betting. People have won as much as $2,000,000 in a single competition in the past and I’m sure people will win even more than that in the future. Fantasy sports is only growing.

Is this legit?

Yes. Fantasy sports sites are legitimate and legal right here in the United States. Just make sure you play at sites that are located on US soil and your money will always be safe.