The DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship was supposed to be a celebration of the possibilities for the future of US sports betting. However, it ended in controversy as many of its participants were denied the opportunity to actually win. What began a fun idea quickly morphed into another publicity nightmare for the Daily Fantasy Sports site. DraftKings is no stranger to controversy, after all, and even when they try something different, they still get their name in the paper. Let’s have a look at just what happened.
Great Idea, But…
It began as the first-ever DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship, and everything was going along just fine for the first two days. Based in New Jersey and starting on Friday, the contest featured sports bettors trying to win a piece of a $2.5 million prize pool. Bettors had to be physically located in the state of New Jersey in order to participate, as the contest took place entirely on DraftKings Sportsbook’s mobile app. Players began with a $5,000 bankroll and would attempt to end the contest with the most money in their ending bankroll. Doing so would earn the winning player the big prize of $1 million. On Friday night and Saturday, participants could bet on pretty much anything they wanted. On Sunday, they could only bet on the two NFL playoff games, and that’s when everything backfired.
In the final day early game, the New England Patriots were beating up on the Los Angeles Chargers and would go on to win. However, the game, which kicked off at 1:05 p.m. Eastern time, took a long time to end. So much time, in fact, it almost bled into the next game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints. This game was to start at 4:40 p.m. Eastern time. Game One ended only a few minutes before Game Two.
No Time, No Bets
Some players, including bettors at and near the top of the contest’s leaderboard, had their entire bankrolls in play on the early game between the Pats and Chargers. This meant they would not be able to place a wager on the second game because there was not enough time between the games to receive the winnings from the early game and wager on the late game. To make matters worse, some of the wagers were paid out in time, and some players were able to bet on the late game. However— and this is where the controversy is— others were not. They were completely locked out of that late game. The only other game to wager on as part of the contest.
One of those players was a pro bettor, Rufus Peabody, who ended up finishing the contest in third place. He wagered his entire available bankroll on the Patriots to cover a 3.5-point spread, which they, of course, did. However, his contest account was not credited with the winnings in time to wager on the second game of the day.
Yes and No
It is important to note that the rules of the contest did clearly state that you could not place a wager after the start of the second game. Any experienced gambler would know that the early game would not finish before the start of the late game would have been a possibility no matter what was going on with DraftKings. However, since it appears that some players were credited their winnings from the Patriots game and able to bet on the Saints game while many others were not is where the trouble arises.
A DraftKings’ spokesperson prepared this response:
“The first ever Sports Betting National Championship was an incredibly thrilling event. We recognize that in the rules the scheduled end of betting coincided very closely to the finish of the of Patriots-Chargers game. While we must follow our contest rules, we sincerely apologize for the experience several customers had where their bets were not graded in time to allow wagering on the Saints-Eagles game. We will learn from this experience and improve upon the rules and experience for future events.”
What’s the Next Move
Unfortunately for everyone involved, this issue will likely fall to regulators, namely the New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement. The fact that bettors did not have an equal opportunity to bet in the contest on the final game will likely not sit well with them. Fines or enforcement action by the NJDGE could certainly be in play, pending the outcome of a potential investigation. There just is no outcome that satisfies everyone. From paying everyone out to paying everyone back. This is quite a black eye for DraftKings. After all, Draftkings is running sports betting contests in a regulated market now. The manner in which it ran this contest created an unfair advantage for some participants. Therefore, there will probably be consequences.