Fantasy Football: A game of chance or skill?


Here’s Rin  with his article on whether fantasy football is a game of chance or skill

Fantasy Football: A game of chance or skill?

fantasy football

The first thing that millions of Americans do when they wake up every day isn’t making their breakfast, waking up their children or staring mindfully out of the window. No, for millions the first port of call in the morning is their fantasy football team.

The game, which consists of players creating imaginary football teams from a real pool of NFL players is big business in North America. The Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association estimates that the fantasy sports industry – which is enjoyed by 59 million players – is worth more than $7 billion a year.

Legally fantasy football has been classified by the courts as a game of skill rather than chance, making it immune from federal gambling laws. Despite the legal clarification, debates still rage between players as to whether or not their fantasy football success is all down to luck.

Here’s everything you need to know about the argument between skill and luck, fantasy football’s link to gambling and how it is enjoyed in other countries.

Scientists Attribute Fantasy Football Success to Skill




When a friend accuses you of being lucky after topping the end of season fantasy football table a quick reminder of the legal definition of the game isn’t going to cut the mustard. In situations like that the best counter argument is cold, hard scientific facts.

Fortunately the Massachusetts Institute of Technology commissioned a study into the correlation between skill and success in fantasy football. MIT started by defining what skill actually was, deciding on knowledge of statistics, rules, injuries and other determining factors.

Conducted over a number of years the study found that there was a direct correlation between skill and success. Those with a greater understanding of sports statistics, combined with game experienced fared better than those without.

Furthermore, there was little variability in success with players who had performed well in a previous season continuing to do so in the following season. The categorical conclusion was that fantasy sports were based predominantly on skill.

Although the team at MIT did acknowledge that luck and chance play a small, if not negligible role in the outcome of fantasy sports much like in real life sport itself.

fantasy football

Scientists analysed season’s worth of fantasy football data – not like this – to conclusively say the game is based on skill, not luck.

Is Fantasy Football a form of Gambling?

Legally it is not as the law requires a game to be predominantly a game of chance rather than skill to be categorised as a gambling activity. However in many people’s minds fantasy football is almost certainly a form of gambling.

The average buy-in for a fantasy football league is $50 which is then grouped together and redistributed to the eventual winner. Therefore, it would be reasonable to claim that fantasy football is a gambling activity, especially when you compare the game in North America to its British counterpart…

English Fantasy Football

Over in England there is very little interest from mainstream sports fans in American football. There is however an enormous love of English football which becomes apparent after the briefest of conversations with a sports-loving Brit.

Over in the UK there is a growing interest in fantasy football, but the main difference between the games there and the US is the absence of money. The vast majority of fantasy football sites in England in are free to play and offer no financial reward to players.

In some instances, major news outlets like The Sun may offer a cash reward to the eventual nationwide winner, but this sum can be won without the player buying-in. Of course, there may be friendly games where wagers are made between friends, but it is not as commonplace as it is in North America.

As players do not routinely pay to play fantasy sports in England there is no debate as whether or not the game is gambling.

Does Paying Equal Gambling?




It is argued by some that other free games on the internet who also offer cash rewards to winning players should not be classified as gambling. In this case online gambling sites such as bingo are examples of sites that offer a cash reward for players with the players having no obligation to pay, or buy-in before taking part. Most online bingo sites have the gaming option free bingo games to play with players being able to take part for no cost yet still having the opportunity to win a cash prize. This clarifies why people do argue that these types of online games should not be classed as gambling as the player is not putting forward any money to participate.

The same could be said about free poker tournaments and free-to-enter sports betting competitions. However, most people – and in some cases the law – would argue that regardless of buy-ins, these activities are undoubtedly acts of gambling.

One could conclude from that then, that the biggest identifier of whether or not something is a gambling activity is the balance between skill and luck. Buy-ins and wagers are seemingly irrelevant in identifying what is gambling and what is not.

Is Fantasy Football Gambling? The Verdict

As mentioned earlier in the article the most defining characteristic of a gambling pursuit is the players’ reliance on luck rather than skill. In regards to fantasy football the game has been conclusively categorised as one of skill.

It’s obvious. Whilst there is an element of luck when it comes to injuries and suspensions, the facts are that those who pick wisely, based on statistics and facts will perform better than those who don’t.

Fantasy football is very much like sport in that regard – a team may win a one-off game through luck, but over the course of a season the best will rise to the top.

The fact that money is wagered through buy-ins shouldn’t really be a consideration. In England, companies offer large prize money through the advertising profits that they receive from facilitating fantasy sports leagues.

When friends come together to play fantasy football and have fun, there is no problem with them all chipping in for prize money. After all, they cannot rely on the income of multi-million dollar sponsorships to make their fantasy football league that little bit more fun.

So, in conclusion, fantasy football is not a form of gambling and despite what your jealous friends may say, it is a game of skill and not luck.

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1 thought on “Fantasy Football: A game of chance or skill?”

  1. Great article. And I have to agree that it is indeed a game of skill. However, you also need luck to triumph, especially when competing against so many like minded players. Take the game of poker for example… The most successful tournament players in the world will all tell you that you can’t win a large tournament comprised of a few thousand players on skill alone. Somewhere along the line you are going to have to get lucky to beat a guy and stay in the tournament, and probably more than once or twice.
    But in the long run, skill beats luck all day long. And that is true, even for gambling.

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