A key issue with fandom and the stakes of gaming surrounding the NFL has been highlighted by a number of incidents over the course of the NFL’s history. The Patriots, in particular, have two. The snowplow incident in the 1982 season’s playoffs and the 2001 “Tuck Rule” are just a few incidents that ignited fans’ frustrations with the NFL and the impact it had on wagering on the sport.
Who can remember where they were when the “Tuck Rule” game first happened? If you’re over 30 and you’ve been following football your whole life, odds are, you remember exactly where you were. I was at the Cadet Grill at Riverside Military Academy when it happened. It was a polarizing event that sent the entire audience into a heated frenzy. For the few Patriots fans in attendance, they proclaimed, “it’s in the rule book,” even though no one actually knew it was indeed a rule. The rule itself had only been established just a year earlier.
For the few Raiders fans attending, along with the rest of us who were just fans of football, it just seemed wrong. We left the grill that night with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Why was that a rule? Why have we not seen this rule enforced before? How could they let such a rule ruin a great game?
More than ever at stake
Fast forward to 2020 and the stakes are much higher and frustrations run even deeper. The landscape of the NFL and its rules are undeniably more ambiguous. To add to it, the stakes of the NFL are that much greater now for casual fans as the variety of ways to wager money on the sport has increased ten-fold, including for daily fantasy sports.
If you’re new to DFS, there have been a number of controversies about it since its inception. As with other forms of gaming, there are numerous people looking to gain an edge. Little has been revealed about the outcomes of some of the investigations, but each time something has occurred, DraftKings and FanDuel — two of the biggest companies involved — have implemented new regulations to prevent the scenarios from happening again.
Controversy at the DraftKings Millionaire Maker
This past Sunday, one such occurrence has brought to light a scenario for which we have received little feedback from DFS sites in the past. In this particular instance, two former Bachelor in Paradise contestants — who are currently married — have been revealed to have maxed out the number of possible entries allocated, across both their accounts.
As revealed by William Bierman — a professional DFS Player —Jade Roper and her husband, Tanner Tolbert entered the maximum amount of lineups allowed per person (150 each or 300 total) with very little overlap at the quarterback position. As a result, Jade Roper won the Milly Maker contest on January 5th for $1,000,000. Soon after the victory, questions as to the methods by which Roper won were springing up like weeds.
The case against
A quick check from @gravycakesDFS revealed Roper hadn’t posted anything sports or DFS related on her social media prior to Sunday. This leads many to believe the account was actually being managed by someone with a much more extensive interest in DFS, likely her husband Tanner Tolbert.
William Bierman’s post reveals 98.5% of Tolbert’s lineups contained Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, or Cason Wentz, while 95.67% of Roper’s lineups contained Ryan Tannehill, Deshaun Watson, or Josh Allen. This appears to violate DraftKings’ rule under “Example B” of “Unacceptable Behaviors” which states, “You and a group of friends collaborate in NFL contests to each draft different QBs and WRs, to guarantee you aren’t competing as directly with each other.”
This Bachelorette and her husband and both max enter the milly and not share QBs? Her insta and twitter don't have a single sports post prior either. @adamlevitan @AwesemoDFS @DraftKings @TommyG @AlZeidenfeld @CSURAM88 pic.twitter.com/6zf79C68Ty
— Chris G (@gravycakesDFS) January 6, 2020
The case for
This has happened numerous times and each time, the player(s) involved have (to our knowledge) been paid out. The rules are in place, but there’s nothing saying anything about limiting entries per household.
How can the site prove, without a reasonable doubt, wrongdoing occurred? Even with overwhelming evidence, it is impossible for the sites to know for certain whether a single-player truly gamed the system.
The overwhelming evidence suggests Tanner Tolbert was doubling his max entries. According to the way DraftKings has structured their terms, it’s really up to DraftKings to make the call on whether Jade Roper will keep her winnings or not.
Has this scenario happened in the past? It has. Has DraftKings refused payment in those cases? From what I’ve gathered, the answer is no.
Over the past few years, cases have been made against other DFS winners which laid forth decent arguments by which players could’ve been stripped of their win. However, none of these wins created a significant enough buzz around the community to impact participation in such contests.
I have been writing about DFS for two years with a focus on 50/50 contests, not tournaments like the Milly Maker. I don’t use optimization tools and I’ve been successful utilizing my own methods. I’ve never felt I was being squeezed in any of the contests, but I can sympathize with some people’s fears with tournaments. I’ve heard very little griping within the community in regard to anything outside of tournaments.
As far as tournaments like the Milly Maker are concerned, there have been concerns about users using lineup optimization tools that result in many players having the same lineup in the same contest, but that’s about it. This issue with players doubling and tripling their max lineups by way of a third party isn’t a new issue, but the high-profile nature of this particular contest has created a dilemma for DraftKings.
There’s an old dilemma known as “The Pregnant Woman,” but for relevance and simplicity, we’ll call it the “Celebrity in a Cave.”
The Celebrity Dilemma goes like this: A celebrity is leading a large group of people through a cave by the ocean. Upon exiting the cave and potentially leading the group to safety, the celebrity gets stuck at the mouth of the cave. A passerby has a stick of dynamite, by which they can use to blow the mouth of the cave open, thereby rescuing the large group of people and leading future cave seekers to believe the cave will be safe going forward.
The problem is, if the dynamite is used, the celebrity will die. On the other side of it, if the celebrity is spared in time to be freed from the cave, the group will drown when the tide comes in. I thought this as an appropriate dilemma because the cave is the DFS world, the cave-goers are the DFS players, and Jade Roper is the celebrity.
So what now?
While it appears to be a situation requiring one of two courses of action, there are certainly other ways to fix it going forward. On the one hand, if she is allowed to keep her status as the contest winner, it may deter others from wanting to enter in the contest in the future, for fear they won’t have the resources to compete against what many will consider to be stacked odds.
On the other hand, the fact that a woman technically won the contest may be seen in some light as good for the DFS industry. If this win is nullified, it could potentially do more harm than good for an industry largely populated by male participants, and the prospect of growing the participation to other demographics would dim.
An alternative that might make sense for DraftKings would be for them to settle on an undisclosed amount for the winner outside of the contest results and then award the Millionaire Crown to the runner-up. This way, DraftKings could send a message to those considering colluding in the future and draw a clear and definitive line in the sand on this recurring issue.
Does it take a high-profile individual winning the Milly Maker amidst heavy controversy to spark the dynamite needed to ease the DFS community? The potential ramifications of their decision are multifaceted. DraftKings certainly has a big decision going forward as the room for error in this incident grows slimmer by the minute.