Harkening back to its glory days running multimillion-dollar daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests, DraftKings created its inaugural Sports Betting National Championship to celebrate America’s newly legalized sportsbook industry.
Open to anybody physically located in New Jersey – where DraftKings launched the state’s first online sportsbook back in August – the Sports Betting National Championship cost $10,000 to enter. Half of that hefty buy-in contributed to the $2.5 million prize pool guaranteed by DraftKings, while the other half served as each entrant’s bankroll for three days of wagering action.
Beginning on Friday, entrants were free to place as many bets as they liked – including parlays, adjusted money lines, and live bets – in hopes of running their starting bankroll up. By the end of Sunday’s NFL Divisional Round doubleheader, the player who accumulated the highest total bankroll claimed the top prize payout of $1 million, with the remaining prize pool divided amongst the remaining top-24 finishers.
It all sounded so simple on paper, and yet, when the dust settled DraftKings’ bold experiment was mired in controversy.
After allowing open betting across its full slate of sportsbook offerings Friday and Saturday, the National Championship limited action on Sunday to the two NFL playoff contests.
Randy Lee – a 32-year old local poker dealer – found his “rleejr86” account sitting on $47,500 following the first game, a 41-28 romp by the New England Patriots over the Los Angeles Chargers. Knowing he needed to make a big play in order to contend for the top prizes, Lee bet his entire bankroll on the Philadelphia Eagles to cover a (+8.5) point spread as road underdogs against the New Orleans Saints in the nightcap.
Philadelphia eventually lost by a 20-14 margin, covering the spread and sending Lee’s final bankroll to $101,472.02 – good enough for the outright lead.
Finishing in second place was Daniel “nomoreiloveyous” Steinberg, who wound up with $88,206.07 after his own $35,000 wager on Philadelphia (+8.5) turned a winner.
But while both players had a chance to fire a final must-win wager on the Saints / Eagles game, the third-place finisher wasn’t so fortunate.
Professional sports bettor Rufus “Opti5624” Peabody was sitting pretty after betting his entire $42,875.30 bankroll on the Patriots as (-3.5) home favorites over the Chargers.
The final score left Peabody – co-founder of football analytics site Massey-Peabody – with $81,891.83 to work with entering the decisive final game.
But in a cruel twist of fate, the Chargers’ futile attempt to notch the comeback extended that game well past its expected conclusion time. The final whistle didn’t blow until 4:37 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), just three minutes before the Saints and Eagles were scheduled to kick off.
Frantically clicking the refresh button on the DraftKings Sportsbook mobile app – hoping to see his winning wager graded and reflected in an increased bankroll – the 4:40 p.m. EST kickoff came and went without Peabody getting a chance to place a potentially million-dollar bet.
In an interview with ESPN during the contest’s aftermath, Peabody described his unique dilemma waiting for the DraftKings software to catch up.
“I had spent the last 2.5 hours running over all the numbers.
And, as it goes at the end, I was going back and forth: ‘Which one am I going to do? Am I going to pull the trigger?’
It was going to be a Saints bet of some kind or the under.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance.”
Peabody initially accepted the result as mere happenstance, a common case of being “boxed out” from the next bet until previous bets have posted, but he later found out other players who bet on Patriots / Chargers were indeed able to fire on the Saints / Eagles matchup.
Knowing this, Peabody has vowed to explore all legal measures at his disposal.
In a press release issued to quell the budding controversy, DraftKings pointed to the rules prohibiting all players from betting on Saints / Eagles after the game kicked off:
“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.”
The DFS kingpin did not address the matter of some players having their early game wagers graded before others had the same opportunity.