GPWA Times Magazine - Issue30 - October 2014

Daily fantasy sports is growing quickly — and online poker players love it By Dan Podheiser P oker's popularity reached unprec- edented heights after Chris Money- maker won the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event. It created a whole new narra- tive: Anyone could be a world champion. Moneymaker's story became folklore: A Tennessee accountant turns $40 into $2.5 million by winning an online satellite tournament, then bests a field of 839 play- ers in Las Vegas. PokerStars, now the largest online poker site in the world, launched in Sept. 2001. But it wasn't until two years later, when Moneymaker wore a PokerStars hat and polo shirt in front of the ESPN cameras, that the site — and the online poker world — took off in popularity. The Internet poker boom created a whole new breed of poker player. College stu- dents, with their parents' cash burning holes in their pockets, countless hours of free time and Internet access all over campus, soon became the bread and but- ter of the online poker world. They could deposit instantly, play any game at any time, and for whatever stakes their bank- rolls would allow. If they wanted to play 20 tables at once, there were always 20 seats available. Most poker players, of course, are not winners in the long run. But for those who were ahead of the learning curve during the online poker boom, it was an incred- ibly profitable period. Then Black Friday happened in April 2011, and the fun stopped. Many players had their bankrolls seized by the U.S. De- partment of Justice. Those who still want- ed to play on PokerStars had to move out of the country. Three years later, online poker is making a slow comeback in the U.S., as residents of New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware can now log on and play in the states' regu- lated online poker rooms. California and Pennsylvania could be next. But the games are sparse, and compared to the heyday before Black Friday, the online poker in- dustry in the U.S. is a desolate wasteland. A new industry has emerged, however, that is catching the eyes of many former online poker players. The money involved and its meteoric growth rate harken back to the early days of the poker boom. A new frontier Americans love fantasy sports. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, the number of Americans paying to par- ticipate in fantasy sports has grown at a 7.8 percent clip annually over five years. In 2013, an estimated 33.6 million players participated. Fantasy sports is a multibil- lion-dollar industry. It's also legal in most U.S. states. Until recently, fantasy sports have com- monly been played in season-long leagues, or in a "rotisserie" format. Players draft and manage the same team through- out an entire season, making roster deci- sions and transactions along the way. At the end of the season, prizes are based on results over a year's worth of play. For the most part, these leagues are played among friends. Often there is money at stake. But bragging rights can be just as important. Winning your fantasy foot- ball league "proves" that you know more about the game than everyone else. But the emergence of daily fantasy sports (DFS) has created an entirely different experience for sports fans. Websites like FanDuel and DraftKings offer hundreds of pay-to-play contests every single day, where people can log on, deposit money securely and play day-long fantasy sports contests against players from around the country. Instead of managing a team for an entire season, you simply create a line- up of players (using a salary cap) and en- ter it into a competition. And you can en- ter as many competitions, using as many different lineups, as you'd like. FanDuel pays out over $10 million in real cash prizes every week. During Week 1 of the 2014 NFL season, DraftKings is guar- anteeing $5 million in prizes. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? A natural crossover The daily fantasy sports model is eerily sim- ilar to online poker, and the poker-playing community was one of the first groups to take notice of the industry's potential. In Sept. 2011, pro poker players Taylor Caby and Andrew Wiggins launched, one of the earliest daily fantasy sports sites (the site was sold in April 2014). The industry was still in its infancy at the time, but Caby, Wiggins and their poker training website, Card-, were and still are huge in the poker world. And because they pro- moted DraftDay, it made some inroads in the community. Jonathan Aguiar was one of the site's early adopters. The then-poker pro played on DraftDay during the 2012 NFL postseason, and then deposited money on DraftKings 44 Daily fantasy sports is growing quickly — and online poker players love it