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Online Poker vs Sports Betting

By Erik Olson, Rakeback.com Staff Writer

The rise of daily fantasy sports (DFS) as a multi-billion dollar industry has seen many poker vs sports betting comparisons be drawn, including its similarity to the online poker boom of the early 2000s.

Poker vs Sports Betting

There are also those that worry it could share the same fate as online poker in the US. For the time being however DFS is considered a skill game in the United States, and legal.

Poker vs Sports Betting – Top 3 Similarities

Both poker and DFS offer financial rewards to players who make the best betting decisions in the long run, and both involve short-term variance, or ‘luck’.

There are a number of skills shared by successful poker players that translate well to the world of DFS:

#1 – Bankroll Management

It might not be sexy, but it’s probably the most important aspect of both DFS and poker.

No matter how good you are at picking winning lineups, failing to use disciplined bankroll management will catch up with you eventually.

GPP (Guaranteed Prize Pool) contests can be compared to large field, guaranteed multi-table tournaments (GTD MTTs) in poker; they’re both high variance, and consequently require a large number of buy ins.

50/50s and heads-up games are more analogous to cash games in poker, where proven winners can grind out a relatively consistent, low-variance profit.

One key difference in managing your DFS bankroll though is that when you enter multiple contests on the same day, the results are highly correlated with each other.

If e.g. Chris Paul is widely perceived to be great value on a particular night, the percentage of people who roster him in each contest is going to be similar.

There will be some fluctuation – he might be 59% owned in one contest, and 67% owned in another – but he’ll never be 80% owned in one contest and 15% owned in another.

GPP Contest Poker vs Sports Betting Lobby

An example GPP event in the DraftKings lobby, the $10m Millionaire Maker

The result is that when you pick a high-scoring lineup that cashes in one of your contests, there’s a good chance it will cash in the others as well.

Conversely, if your lineup doesn’t do so hot, you might end up with a goose egg for the night.

Contrast this with poker – load up a few cash game tables, and you usually find yourself seated with different players at each table. You might be dealt monsters at one table, while getting cold-decked at another.

There are a lot of independent variables at play that separate your results at each table, and you’re much more likely to finish with a middling result.

#2 – Psychology

While both DFS and poker are mathematical games at their core, there’s no denying the element of psychology inherent in each of them.

The role of psychology in DFS is most prominent in the GPP format, while 50/50s and HU matches are mostly data-driven.

The GPP fields are big, the payout structures are top-heavy, and there’s only so many players that can be rostered. Inevitably, some people end up with identical lineups. If they finish in the money, that means they have to split their prize with other entries.

GPP players sometimes try to avoid this by making unorthodox contrarian picks, making it less likely that others will share their exact lineup.

It’s often correct to pick a lineup that you expect to perform worse than others on average. You might finish in the money less often than others, but it’s made up for by the fact that you’ll have to share your prize money less often when you do cash.

The psychology, then, comes into play while trying to predict which players others will choose. Being aware of the day’s sports headlines is important, as sites like ESPN are very influential on casual fantasy sports players.

One of the best ways to get a feel for public sentiment is to keep tabs on some of the major DFS discussion forums. Many people openly discuss their picks, and you can adjust your lineups accordingly.


 One of the largest daily fantasy sites, DraftKings recently partnered with the World Poker Tour

#3 – Data Analysis

Online poker players use tools such as PokerTracker and Hold’em Manager to track a variety of statistics on their opponents, and to analyze their own play.

In DFS, most of the data you’re concerned with involves the athletes themselves rather than your DFS opponents (apologies to DFS players who considered themselves athletes).

Not all data are created equally, and identifying the most relevant stats for your sport is crucial to finding success in DFS.

This might be most apparent in baseball, which has a larger and more diverse body of data than any other sport.

For a long time, earned run average (ERA) was the go-to stat for evaluating MLB pitchers. With modern analysis, we now know that ERA is actually a terrible metric, and that strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and walks per nine innings (BB/9) are far better predictors of future pitching success.

There are various sites that give DFS player projections. Instead of relying on any one site, the best way to use this information is to combine them in a spreadsheet to create aggregate projections.

Aggregate projections have been shown to outperform the vast majority of individual projections.

You can use the aggregate as your own projection baseline, but you’ll still need to account for other factors like late lineup changes.

Poker vs sports betting comparisons even extend to ‘bumhunting’, as common in DFS as it is in poker.

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