The leaking of player lineup data at daily fantasy sports site DraftKings has sparked a nationwide conversation spanning employee access to sensitive player data, game integrity, and the effectiveness of operators self-policing in the DFS industry.
The employee in question was cleared of any wrongdoing in a third-party review that was released on October 19.
Here are the broad strokes of #DKLeak:
Haskell’s apparent ability to readily access valuable data raises questions about DraftKings’ internal controls. As DFS Report put it:
If this sort of information is stored in advance like this who is to say that the data isn’t available to someone 5 minutes before kickoff of games or 10 minutes before the kickoff or even an hour before the initial kickoff. My point is if the data can be accessed in advance then it is not hard to see it could easily be accessed at other points in advance even before the tournament is live.
If the data is made available, the questions looming over DraftKings – and all operators – include:
Even if a DFS site employee is not playing DFS (at his or her site, or elsewhere) lineup data and other internal operator data would be extremely valuable to DFS players.
Combine that significant value with an environment where internal controls on data access are lax and you risk the functional equivalent of insider trading on the stock market, argued sports and gaming attorney Daniel Wallach:
We are not aware of any DFS company that had a blanket policy prohibiting employees from playing on other DFS sites at the time of the incident.
Following the incident, FanDuel and DraftKings announced they were restricting the ability of their employees to play DFS at other sites, and that employees of other DFS sites would be prohibited from playing on DraftKings and FanDuel. Several other operators have followed with similar policies.
Anecdotally, the amount of cross-site play by operator employees is substantial.
DraftKings founder Paul Liberman commented in September that the company employs “some people who make significantly more money off of our competitors’ sites than they do working for DraftKings.”
One industry insider who wished to remain anonymous told LSR that “a significant number of the whales at the top DFS sites are employees – often executives – of other sites.”
(From a DFS operator’s point of view, a “whale” is simply a high-volume player that generates significant revenue, not necessarily a winning or losing player.)
Daily fantasy sports currently occupies a legal space in the U.S. that has allowed the industry to exist outside of the regulatory umbrella that covers conceptually similar products like parimutuel horse wagering, poker, and sports betting.
As a result of that status quo:
As Seth Young, COO of daily fantasy sports site Star Fantasy Leagues, noted to LSR, “brick and mortar groups in a regulated environment have tight controls on who can access what data. We always talk about how we have been built to address things like this, and other concerns of gaming regulators, etc. There’s a reason this stuff doesn’t come out of our camp, and it’s not because of player numbers.”
“This is, however, another case in point why we license and control our technology,” Young added. “Knowing what I know, I’m not sure how this sort of thing happens by accident, or how deep this integrity issue goes.”
In the absence of an external oversight function, here are some critical questions stemming from the data leak issue that we’ll never have complete certainty regarding:
In contrast, the regulated NJ online casino industry exists in an environment where state regulators have on-demand access to any and all data related to game play, comprehensive transaction history, and employees.
DraftKings was required to apply for the same type of licensure in the United Kingdom as sports betting operators bet365 and betfair, as daily fantasy sports falls under the purview of the UK Gambling Commission.
The FSTA – the primary trade group for the DFS industry – does have a “Paid Entry Contest Operator Charter” that serves as the only external guidelines for DFS operators. FSTA board members include the CEOs of DraftKings and FanDuel; FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles was an author of the charter.
The charter includes a section dedicated to game integrity:
The signatory company will ensure employees or other persons connected to the company with access to confidential player information (such as line-ups) will not:
- Play on their own games (apart from for testing purposes or in private leagues)
- Use confidential player information to gain an advantage playing against players on a different site
- Share confidential player information (such as win rate) to anyone outside of the company
Note that the FSTA considers lineups to be “confidential player information” and that the leak appears to be a clear violation of the FSTA charter.
But what’s actually behind the policy? The FSTA itself makes it clear that the body isn’t meant to serve as an enforcement apparatus. From the charter:
Conforming with the above should not be viewed as compliance with the law, and the FSTA is in no way certifying such compliance of member companies. Companies should procure and adhere to legal advice regarding their games from skilled, experienced counsel of their choice
The FSTA is not undertaking to audit or regulate member companies. Rather, this code is designed to foster proper behavior and allow the FSTA to exercise discretion and take action if it so chooses should it learn that a member company is not adhering to the principles set forth above.
Also, if you violate the charter, the only penalty would be no longer having membership in the FSTA, which is nowhere near what the penalty would be for an infraction regarding game integrity that would result under regulation.
NBA on DFS: "We have been advised all appropriate actions are being taken to maintain the highest level of integrity for fantasy players."
— David Payne Purdum (@DavidPurdum) October 6, 2015
“Major League Baseball has a policy that prohibits players and employees from participating in fantasy baseball games in which prize money or other things of value are available to participants,” MLB said in its statement. “We were surprised to learn that DraftKings allowed its employees to participate in daily fantasy games. We have reached out and discussed this matter with them.”
“If you knew beforehand which players would be most used, in the major sports you can build +EV (positive expected value) cash game and GPP lineups based almost solely on that knowledge,” Miller told Legal Sports Report.
Ownership percentage is one piece of the puzzle that can be useful in skillfully setting DFS lineups, especially in guaranteed prize pool contests. Top players try to predict ownership percentages, and data about past ownership percentages can be dissected for information.
Because of the massive number of entries in the biggest contests at DraftKings and FanDuel — hundreds of thousands — it’s usually difficult to win a contest with a lot of players that are commonly owned.
Additional resources on this question:
We have seen no compelling evidence or credible accusations that Haskell’s FanDuel win was in any way connected to the data leak in question.
DraftKings has categorically denied that Haskell had access at a time that would have impacted his entry in the FanDuel contest in question:
DraftKings has put out a new statement insisting its employee locked in his FanDuel lineup before seeing the data. pic.twitter.com/rLuFzJLzVG
— Daniel Roberts (@readDanwrite) October 6, 2015
RotoGrinders founder Cal Spears reported that Haskell did not have access to the data before setting his lineup at FanDuel. Here is his post from the RG thread, which included an update from Saturday:
There is a narrative running on Twitter that Ethan had access to this data before lineups locked and used it to play on Fanduel. From what I’m told he received the ownership report well after lineups locked on Fanduel. There is plenty of merit in a debate about site employees playing on different sites, but we need to base that debate in reality. Ethan was not using this data to pick his week 3 teams on Fanduel, he was writing about this data for DK Playbook after his week 3 teams on Fanduel had already locked.
Spears said he also confirmed with DraftKings co-founder Matt Kalish that the data that Haskell had access to was issued too late to be of use at FanDuel.