Daily Fantasy Sports: What Is Typical?

Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) is growing rapidly within the gambling industry, as it allows players the opportunity to create their own “fantasy teams” of individual players and compete for cash-prizes. Some stakeholders have expressed concerns over the dangers of DFS and related harm players may experience from its accelerated nature of play. Sarah Nelson, PhD, from Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, set out to explore DFS data.

What is the aim?

The aim of this study by Nelson, (2019), was to conduct and create the first descriptive dataset summary of Daily Fantasy Sports participation. The research team aimed to create, more specifically, the first description of the distribution of DFS play among DraftKings participants that includes NFL involvement.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers worked with DraftKings, a prominent DFS operator to create descriptive data based upon adults that participated during the 2014 NFL season. The study population included 10,385 adults, average age of 34, from 49 US states, 9 Canadian provinces, and various military bases. The researchers examined the “typical play” of the DFS players, including financial involvement, time involvement, and contest type preference. They then examined whether they could separate players into distinct player categories. These categories were based on their entry fees and net losses, and number of contests entered. Researchers hypothesized that overall, typical play will be moderate for the cohort, with a small subset exhibiting extreme levels of financial engagement, time engagement, or both.

Why is this important

This study is very important because there is a dearth of research on DFS and this is one of the first studies to use actual data derived from participants that use DraftKings to place their bets. This study aims to be one of the first to provide descriptive data regarding DFS players and their tendencies, and avoids the limitations that come along with self-report data collection. This study will hopefully lead to a better understanding of the play patterns of DFS players and inform further research on the negative outcome association with different play patterns.

What did they find?

Researchers found that players entered a median of two contest per active day and a single entry within those contests. A median entry fee of $87, and median loss of $30.70 was also found for this cohort of players. They found they were able to identify heavily involved sub-groups, which they designated the “1%”. This group was less likely to restrict their activity to NFL games, presented greater time involvement, and had a higher winning percentage of contests then those not within the group. These findings were in line with the hypothesis that most of the cohort would show moderate play involvement, while a small number would exhibit heavy play.


This study only utilized data from DraftKings, which is one of a handful of DFS platforms. Those participants that use DraftKings may be systematically different than players that use other platforms. The players may also have played on other platforms, but this study only looks at DraftKings participation. Additionally, this study also only used data from one season of an NFL season and does not show any changes over time or season to season.


Nelson, S., Edson, T., Singh, P., Tom, M., Martin, R., LaPlante, D., … Shaffer, H. (2019). Patterns of Daily Fantasy Sport Play: Tackling the Issues.Journal of Gambling Studies.

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