Daily Fantasy Sports In Ohio

In December 2017, Ohio joined a growing list of states passing legislation explicitly legalizing daily fantasy sports (DFS).

While DFS sites serve players in many states that don’t have specific laws on their books, in Ohio, the matter is crystal clear: DFS is fully legal, with the Ohio Casino Control Commission providing oversight over fantasy sports in the state.

At the time the law was passed, estimates were that nearly 2 million Ohioans were already participating in daily fantasy sports. That figure is likely even higher today.

When legalizing daily fantasy sports, Ohio set a maximum annual licensing fee of just $10,000 with an additional registration fee based on players served. Operators pay a registration fee as well, but they don’t have to pay any tax on revenue. As a result, Ohio becomes even more inviting for the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo Fantasy Sports, and other DFS sites, all of which are energetically competing to attract players in the state.

Here’s an overview of daily fantasy sports in the Buckeye State, including discussions of how DFS differs from traditional sports betting, which sites operate in Ohio, and the different types of contests available for Ohioans to play.

What are daily fantasy sports?

Daily fantasy sports are the now-popular outgrowth of what had originally been season-long fantasy contests. In those season-long games, players would pick players from different teams to form individual line-ups.

Then, over the course of a season, those players’ statistical performances would add up to create a total score for each fantasy team’s roster. The highest-scoring team, of course, wins that season’s title.

DFS takes the same concept and accelerates it, allowing players to build teams of players that compete for just one day, not an entire season. For example, those entering DFS contests can choose players from all the MLB or NBA teams in action on any given date. The NFL contests more often feature a week’s worth of games, although they can also be focused on a single day.

Generally speaking, DFS contests require selecting players from at least two different teams when creating line-ups. This requirement is one reason why the industry became legal in jurisdictions where regular sports betting is prohibited. By creating mixed line-ups, you can’t really just bet on one team. Rather, you create your own fantasy team, or a team that doesn’t exist in reality.

People still play season-long fantasy contests, although daily contests have become much more popular today. When playing DFS contests online, players join games involving thousands or even hundreds of thousands of entries. That makes it harder to win, but it also creates some very large prize pools that can sometimes reach seven figures.

FanDuel first launched in 2009, and DraftKings followed in 2012. Since then, those two companies have become the titans of DFS in America, enjoying well over 90% of all the DFS action in the country.

That said, smaller sites like Yahoo Fantasy Sports and FantasyDraft attract players as well. Ohio itself has a number of licensed sites for DFS players to try.

What DFS sites operate in Ohio?

As noted, the Ohio Casino Control Commission provides oversight of fantasy sports in the state. The Commission, therefore, has jurisdiction over everyone involved in offering fantasy contests. They license and regulate operators and also investigate and penalize them if they happen to run afoul of the rules.

Here’s a current list of fantasy contest operators and/or management companies that have licenses to offer DFS in Ohio:

DFS Operators  
Bid VenturesDataForceDraftKings
FanDuelFantasy Golf’s OGFFPC
Masters Fantasy LeaguesNo House AdvantageOwnersBox 3.0
RealTime Fantasy SportsSportsHub Games NetworkSuperDraft
Two Nine SportsUnderdog SportsYahoo Fantasy Sports

FantasyDraft also had a license to operate in Ohio until a recent ownership change caused their license to be switched from active to inactive.

Just like in other states, DraftKings and FanDuel are by far the most popular DFS sites among Ohioans.

What’s the difference between DFS and sports betting?

The most common types of sports betting typically involve wagering on a team either to win or cover a point spread. Thus, the actual result of the contest usually directly affects whether bets win or lose. If you bet on the Cleveland Browns to cover as a 4.5-point favorite against the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, the game’s final score determines whether or not you win your bet.

By contrast, the outcome of a daily fantasy sports contest is not directly affected by the game result. Let’s say you compile a fantasy team for an NFL contest that includes Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, Cleveland running back Nick Chubb, and the Browns defense. If Cleveland crushes the Steelers 42-10, your fantasy team very likely did well.

But the result of the game only partially impacts your ultimate score, since you also necessarily have non-Browns in your lineup. Indeed, Cleveland could win big. But the Browns players you choose might not have great games statistically. So your fantasy team might not achieve a high score.

The closest analog to fantasy sports from regular sports betting are proposition bets on individual players. However, even there, such prop bets mostly concern only how one player performs (e.g., how many points he scores, how many yards he gains). In DFS, you are always wagering on how a group of players collectively perform.

What kind of DFS contests are there in Ohio?

Daily fantasy sites offer a wide variety of contests, although there are certain elements generally found across most of those variations.

After choosing a sport and specific contest, DFS players then select players to form a roster or lineup they then submit as an entry. Usually each player is assigned an invented monetary value by the site, and the DFS player has to create a team using a “salary cap.” These aren’t real dollars but made-up values assigned according to players’ averages and likely performance.

The salary cap means you can’t simply pick all of the top players, since doing so would put you over the cap and make your entry invalid. So, DFS players have to create a team that combines star players and supporting players.

Entry fees can range from as little as $0.25 up to as high as $10,000 in some cases. The rules, structures, and payouts for these contests can vary widely. Some of the most popular types of DFS contests include:

Guaranteed prize pools (GPPs)

Guaranteed prize pool contests guarantee a certain minimum prize pool and will run regardless of how many players enter them. These contests pay out like a poker tournament, and indeed are sometimes referred to as tournaments.

Usually the top 10% to 20% of finishers win cash prizes, starting with “min-cashes” and increasing from there with the largest prizes going to the top spots.

Cash games

Cash games in DFS refer to contests in which the payouts are not graduated as GPPs are, but for which a certain percentage of top finishers each win the same amount.

Popular types of cash games include 50/50 contests (top 50% cash), Double-Ups (cashers double their entry fee), and Head-to-Head (“winner-take-all” contests between two players). Also unlike GPPs, cash games aren’t always guaranteed to run. For example, if only 90 players sign up for a 100-person cash game, it gets canceled.

Showdown

Showdown contests are ones in which you only select players from teams involved in a single game, rather than from the entire schedule of games that day.

As in all DFS contests, you still have to pick at least one player from multiple teams, so your lineups will have at least one representative from both teams. Showdowns can be GPPs or cash games.

Tiers

Tiers, or tier-based contests, don’t involve a salary cap but instead present a set of tiers that contain a small selection of players from that day’s games. Entrants select one player from each tier (“Tier 1,” “Tier 2,” etc.) to build a team. Tiers can also be GPPs or cash games.

That just scratches the surface, really, when it comes to different types of DFS games available.

There are multi-entry and single-entry contests, “satellite” and “qualifier” contests awarding entries into larger contests, and “steps” contests that work like satellites but involve multiple stages of contests. There are even “in-game” DFS contests that resemble live sports betting.

All varieties of DFS contests have in common the fact that they are scored according to players’ statistical performances.

What sports are offered in DFS?

Different daily fantasy sports sites offer different sports in which to enter contests.

Football

The NFL is an especially popular option for DFS players. Ohioans can expect to find numerous NFL options each week of the season, providing them chances to select their favorite Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals players.

College football is also a popular DFS choice each Saturday in the fall. Daily fantasy players in Ohio can choose players from the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Cincinnati Bearcats or other teams in the state when completing their line-ups.

Basketball

The NBA also features many DFS choices each night of its long season, giving basketball fans in Ohio plenty of opportunities to add their favorite Cleveland Cavaliers to their lineups.

College basketball similarly provides many contests to play each night of the season. There, too, DFS players could choose Ohio State or Cincinnati players, or perhaps Xavier Musketeers, Dayton Flyers and Miami Redhawks players when filling out rosters.

Baseball

When it comes to baseball, the long and laborious MLB season creates a ton of DFS action throughout the year. Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds fans can include their favorite players in their lineups each day.

Hockey

The NHL also generates a lot of interest among DFS fans with many contests each day of its season as well. The Columbus Blue Jackets have a big following in Ohio’s largest city, and the team’s fans get many opportunities to root even harder for their favorite players by drafting them in fantasy contests.

Depending on the DFS site, you can also find contests involving a number of other sports as well, including:

  • Australian rules football
  • Auto racing
  • Cricket
  • Esports
  • Golf
  • Horse racing
  • Mixed martial arts
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Tennis
  • Wrestling

The format of the DFS contests can get somewhat creative, depending on the sport.

For instance, in individual sports like auto racing or golf, you’ll often select a group of players or racers you think will finish in the top spots of a given competition. That means drafting individuals who you believe will finish high over a four-day golf tournament or in a NASCAR race. Meanwhile, an MMA daily fantasy contest will often involve picking different fighters scheduled to face off in a given night’s fight card.

History of DFS in Ohio

Daily fantasy sites were already accepting players from Ohio when lawmakers began discussing the possibility of legalizing DFS in 2016.

Before becoming the state’s governor, Mike DeWine was then serving as the Attorney General of Ohio when he sent a memo to the General Assembly discussing the lack of legal clarity regarding DFS. DeWine himself didn’t take a position on the matter, but the conversation had begun.

Soon, two opposing bills appeared in the Senate, one to legalize DFS and one to prohibit DFS contests as illegal “schemes of chance.”

Neither bill advanced in 2016, but in 2017, a new bill favorable to DFS appeared: H 132 sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Dever and Rep. Rob McColley. The bill passed the House by an 82-15 vote. Later, the Senate approved a version by a 25-4 vote. When the House concurred with the Senate’s bill, it was sent to the desk of then-Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

Kasich signed the bill into law in Dec. 2017, making Ohio the 18th state to legalize DFS. The Ohio Casino Control Commission then hammered out regulations, and the new DFS rules became effective in Sept. 2019.

As noted, the rules limit the license fee for operators to $10,000 annually or $30,000 for three years. That compares favorably with other states, some of which have considerably higher license fees.

There is also a registration fee based on how many players the site serves. Anywhere from $3,000 for sites that have fewer than 5,000 players to $30,000 for sites with more than 15,000 players.

Meanwhile, operators don’t have to pay any tax on revenue. That, too, is different from a few states where tax on fantasy sports revenue can be as high as 15% or more.