Daily fantasy sports (DFS) contests are hugely popular in California. As the country’s most populous state — with 40 million residents — it’s no surprise to discover that California represents the largest single-state market for DFS. In fact, some estimates have suggested that Californians comprise as much as 10% of the total entries in US-based DFS contests (maybe even more).
While California sports betting is currently illegal, DFS sites do allow players from the state to enter their contests. Efforts to perhaps legalize sports betting have long been underway, and it’s possible that daily fantasy sports could become part of those efforts, as well. That would be good news for California. Regulating DFS would undoubtedly produce significant tax revenue for the state.
Meanwhile, if you’re seeking information about the legal status of daily fantasy sports in California and about current DFS options for CA players, PlayCA has you covered.
See below for everything you need to know about daily fantasy sports in the Golden State.
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Are daily fantasy sports legal in California?
California is similar to many other US states in that it has no laws explicitly legalizing daily fantasy sports, but doesn’t have any laws prohibiting the activity either. DFS sites, then, operate in a legal “gray area” in California.
As a result, most daily fantasy sports sites accept California players, allowing them to create accounts and compete in their contests.
Daily fantasy sports contests primarily take place online. You can enter contests via a computer, but you can also participate in DFS over a mobile device.
Practically every DFS site has an app that enables players to set their lineups and enter contests quickly and easily from anywhere:
- DraftKings DFS
- FanDuel DFS
- Fliff Social Sportsbook
- Underdog Fantasy
- Betr Picks
- WinView Games
- Outlast Daily Fantasy Sports
- Yahoo Fantasy Sports
- Fantasy Draft
DraftKings and FanDuel are by far the most popular DFS sites in the country. The two industry giants make up more than 90% of the daily fantasy sports market. The other daily fantasy sites above likewise accept California players on their apps.
Earlier this year, Californians lost a DFS option when Monkey Knife Fight shuttered its operation at the end of February. The DFS operation was owned by Bally’s Entertainment. The casino company bought the DFS site in 2021 for $90 million.
At the time of the sale, MKF was the third-largest DFS operator. However, Bally’s announced in mid-February during an earnings report that the MKF lost $425.5 million last year.
How to use California DFS sites
Daily fantasy sports sites and apps might look complicated at first glance, but they are quite intuitive and easy to figure out. Here are the steps you will want to follow to create an account and start entering DFS competitions in California:
Browse a prospective site
You don’t want to sign up and deposit at any daily fantasy sports site blindly. Instead, you should look over one or more DFS sites to ensure that you find one that offers what you need. Aspects to consider during this vetting process include navigation, available markets, promotions, and banking options.
If you’re a big NHL fan, for example, you’ll want to choose a site that offers lots of hockey contests. If bonuses are important, you may want to find a site that features plenty of DFS promotions. You can also read reviews on daily fantasy sites for a second opinion on whether a site is worth considering.
Register for an account
After finding a quality DFS site in California, you’ll need to register for an account to get started. You’ll need to click on the sign-up button on the site’s homepage to bring up an account form. The form will request specific details, such as your full name, birthdate, physical address, and email address. You will also need to create a username and password as well as to agree to the site’s general terms and conditions.
Note that in California, you must be at least 18 years old to participate in DFS contests. When you agree to the site’s terms and conditions, you will also be confirming that you are at least 18.
Make a deposit
The next step to playing in real money DFS contests involves making a deposit. Hopefully, you followed the first step and browsed the site’s banking options to ensure that it offers one you can use.
Bank transfers, credit cards, debit cards, e-wallets and prepaid cards are all commonly available at daily fantasy sites. In states where DFS sites partner with land-based venues, users can perform banking operations in person at the retail partners’ premises. That’s not the case in California, however, where all banking must take place online.
Enter a DFS contest
Once you’ve registered at a California DFS site and deposited funds into your account, you can check the lobby for potential contests to enter. You’ll find these lobbies feature filters that help you sort games, enabling you to locate and enter contests that are within your budget.
Note that once you register for a DFS contest, you can usually change your mind and unregister as long as you do so before the contest begins. When you unregister for a contest, the funds will automatically return to your account.
Daily fantasy sports vs. sports betting
In certain respects, daily fantasy sports contests resemble traditional sports betting. Generally speaking, players set their lineups for DFS contests just before games start, much like bettors will place a wager just before a game gets underway. And when the games are over, you know right away if you’ve won, as sites grade and settle outcomes soon after the contests conclude.
That said, there are a number of important differences between sports betting and playing daily fantasy sports.
When betting on sports, you’re often betting on a team to win a game outright or by a certain amount of points (point spread). Thus, the result of the game directly impacts whether your bet wins. Say you place a moneyline bet on the Golden State Warriors to beat the Los Angeles Lakers. The game’s outcome obviously affects whether you win your bet.
With daily fantasy sports, which team wins or loses the game often doesn’t matter. Instead, you are betting on how individual players perform, with the statistical results of their play determining how you fare. You might choose Stephen Curry and LeBron James to fill a couple of spots in your DFS lineup for a given night’s slate of games. Whether the Warriors win or the Lakers win won’t affect how you do. Rather, you’ll only be pulling for Curry and James to put up big numbers for you.
One type of traditional sports bet resembles DFS more closely — proposition bets or “prop bets” on individual players. However, in DFS you never bet on just one player to score a certain number of points, to register a certain number of strikeouts or to rush for a certain number of yards. You are instead betting on several players — usually six or more — to accumulate points for you and help increase your fantasy team’s overall score.
Daily fantasy sports contests also restrict you from filling your lineup only with players from a single team. Usually, you must have representatives from at least two teams. That means you can’t just load up on players from the Los Angeles Dodgers or Los Angeles Angels. At least one player from another MLB team must be present in your lineup.
That rule is where the name “fantasy” comes from, in fact. When you play DFS, you are building a nonexistent “fantasy” team of players to play for you. In traditional sports betting, you bet on real, actual teams. In DFS, though, you’re betting on invented fantasy teams.
DFS contests available in California
There are many kinds of daily fantasy sports contests featuring a variety of rules, structures and payouts. The entry fees range from freerolls and $0.25 contests up to those costing thousands of dollars to enter. All involve constructing lineups consisting of players from different teams, assembling them to create your fantasy team. No matter what type of DFS contest it is, your score will depend on the statistical performance of your selected players.
Often (but not always) the contests will give each player a value in US dollars, then invite you to build a team while not going over a maximum amount, your “salary cap.” Having that salary cap keeps you from simply picking all the best players, as you won’t have enough salary to fill out your roster with only the highest value players.
Here are a few of the more popular DFS contests you’ll find on sites in California:
Guaranteed prize pools
A DFS contest that a site lists as a GPP or as having a guaranteed prize pool is one in which the site guarantees the prize amount regardless of how many players enter. Typically the top 10% to 20% of finishers divide the prize money, with the highest payouts going to the top finishers as in a poker tournament.
In daily fantasy sports, so-called “cash games” work a little differently from GPPs. Instead of featuring graduated payouts, all the top finishers in a cash game receive the same cash prize. Cash games are also different in that if they don’t attract the required number of players, the site will cancel them and contestants will receive refunds. In other words, if there are only 75 entries in a 100-entry cash game, the contest won’t run.
Some examples of DFS cash games include 50/50 contests in which the top 50% cash, double-ups in which the prize is twice what players put into the prize pool, and head-to-head contests between two players in which the winner takes all.
Showdown contests enable daily fantasy sports players to focus on just one game rather than a whole slate of games. For these, you pick your entire lineup from players in a single game, although you still can’t build your entire roster from just one team’s players. You have to have at least one player from each side in your lineup. You’ll find showdown contests as either GPPs or cash games.
DFS contests using tiers set aside the salary cap and instead divide players into separate tiers (“Tier 1,” “Tier 2,” etc.). You then select one player from each tier to create your lineup. Contests using tiers also can be either GPPs or cash games.
There are other DFS games, as well. Many contests allow multiple entries, while some restrict players to entering just once. There are “steps” contests that function as satellites into larger ones. There are even “in game” DFS contests that have some similarities to live betting.
You’ll also find DFS sites inviting players to participate in free-to-enter pools and other special contests with cash prizes.
Sports available for DFS contests in California
Much like with traditional sports betting, the major North American sports are the most popular among DFS players. Football is the most popular (by far), followed by baseball, basketball and hockey.
However, Californians will also find other options when they visit DFS sites, including some esports. Here are some of the available sports that you might see:
- Australian rules football
- Auto racing (NASCAR)
- Baseball (MLB)
- Basketball (NBA, NCAA, Euroleague)
- Esports (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2, League of Legends)
- Football (NFL, NCAA, CFL)
- Golf (PGA, LPGA)
- Hockey (NHL)
- Mixed martial arts (UFC)
- Soccer (EPL, MLS)
- Tennis (ATP, WTA)
FAQ on DFS in California
How old do I have to be to play fantasy sports in California?
As is the case in most states, you need to be at least 18 years old in order to play daily fantasy sports in California.
Is DraftKings DFS legal in California?
Technically speaking, California has no law explicitly authorizing daily fantasy sports, but the state neither has any law prohibiting DFS. Therefore, as noted above, if you are in California (and at least 18 years old) you can create an account on DraftKings and enter DFS contests on the site. You can do the same at other daily fantasy sports betting sites in California including FanDuel, Yahoo Fantasy Sports, Monkey Knife Fight and other sites as well.
How popular are daily fantasy sports in California?
There is little doubt that more players enter daily fantasy sports contests from California than from any other state. California has the highest population of any state in the US. Sports are huge in California, too, which in turn increases the attraction of daily fantasy sports. There are also more professional sports teams in California than in any other state, along with large colleges and universities that field popular sports teams, as well. The fact that traditional sports betting has remained illegal in the state has also encouraged sports fans in California to gravitate toward DFS.
In 2016, when California legislators were considering whether to legalize DFS in the state, Assembly member Eric Linder noted that the legislation was necessary because not acting “puts up to six million Californians who are playing fantasy sports at risk.” (For more on the history of California’s legislative efforts with regard to DFS, see below.)
While that figure was just an estimate, it gives a good indication of just how popular DFS was in California at the time. Meanwhile, the total number of DFS players in the country has increased steadily since then. Recent studies from the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association indicate there are more than 45 million DFS players in the US, plus another 15 million or so in Canada. It stands to reason that the number of players in California has increased as well over recent years.
Can Nevada DFS players go to California to enter contests?
Yes, Nevada DFS players can travel to California to enter contests. As long as players are located within a state where a daily fantasy sports site operates (and where there is no legal prohibition against DFS), they can enter contests there.
As noted above, a handful of states have either passed laws prohibiting DFS altogether or have otherwise made it clear through legal opinions that daily fantasy sports sites should not accept players from their states. One state falling into that small category of DFS-unfriendly states is Nevada.
Nevada considers daily fantasy sports to be gambling, which means DFS sites must have a license to operate in the state. When the state’s attorney general announced this position in 2015, all DFS companies left Nevada, including DraftKings and FanDuel.
As a result, a significant number of Las Vegas-based DFS players do frequently travel across the state line to California.
Who would oversee DFS in California when it becomes legal?
If California were to take the step of formally legalizing daily fantasy sports, the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) would likely serve as the regulatory authority overseeing licensing and game integrity. The CGCC oversees California card rooms and also serves as the state regulatory agency for California’s tribal casinos. The California State Lottery could theoretically step forward as a potential regulator for DFS, but the CGCC would be a much more likely candidate.
What’s holding daily fantasy sports back in California?
Legalizing daily fantasy sports in California would seem a no-brainer given the significant tax revenue DFS could provide the state. However, competing interests have made any kind of gambling expansion difficult for lawmakers to pursue. The current discussion of sports betting illustrates how the many stakeholders in the state and conflicts between them can pose a challenge to enacting new gambling legislation.
California tribes operate nearly 70 casinos in the state, making them an important participant in any discussions about legal gambling. There are also nearly 100 non-tribal card rooms that can factor into such negotiations. In the case of sports betting, the state’s racetracks and professional sports franchises are also interested parties, as are operators of online sportsbooks hoping one day to launch in CA.
These many competing interests make gambling legislation a complicated topic for lawmakers, who must consider the political consequences of maintaining or losing support from significant constituencies.
There is also a lack of urgency regarding the need to provide any legal sanction for daily fantasy sports in California. Even without any DFS legislation at present, the sites operate in and accept customers from the state.
History of daily fantasy sports in California
Daily fantasy sports first emerged in earnest during the late 2000s and early 2010s. FanDuel, for instance, launched in 2009, while DraftKings went live in 2012. After these sites operated for a few years and started to become increasingly popular, many states’ lawmakers began considering the need to legalize and regulate DFS, in part to capture the significant tax revenue the contests could provide. California was one of the states to make such efforts.
2016: California Assembly passes DFS bill; Senate declines to pursue
California was actually among the first state legislatures to take up DFS. In fact, in January 2016, the California Assembly became the first legislative body in the country to approve a bill that legalized DFS.
The bill, called the Internet Fantasy Sports Game Protection Act (AB 1437), came from Assemblymember Adam Gray with his colleagues Reggie Jones-Sawyer and Cheryl Brown as co-authors.
The bill sought to establish a licensing process for DFS sites in California that would ensure they pay a licensing fee and a tax on revenue, although it did not specify amounts for either. Expectations were that the Senate would fill in specifics regarding licensing fees, tax rates and other particulars once they took up the bill.
Many also believed that then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris would likely issue an opinion about the legality of DFS in response to a letter from Assemblymember Marc Levine requesting she do so. Having such an opinion in hand would then help the Senate shape the legislation to fit with California gambling law.
The Assembly passed the legislation by an overwhelming 62-1 vote, with Levine the only person to vote no. It appeared California was on its way to becoming the first state to legalize and regulate daily fantasy sports. Soon after, though, the state’s influential gambling tribes rose up in opposition to the legislation. The bill went to a Senate committee, and lawmakers scheduled a hearing but then canceled it. By year’s end, the bill had died without further action.
No attorney general opinion on DFS in California
In 2016, Harris was elected to represent California in the US Senate before later becoming vice president, and Xavier Becerra succeeded her as the state’s attorney general. Like Harris, Becerra never weighed in with an opinion on daily fantasy sports during his tenure.
Nor has current Attorney General Rob Bonta tipped his hand regarding DFS since he took the post in 2021. That said, Bonta did vote in favor of AB 1437 in 2016 while a member of the Assembly.
What’s next for daily fantasy sports in California?
It appears unlikely that legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports will be a specific concern of California lawmakers in the near future. However, increased discussion of introducing legal sports betting in the state could potentially involve DFS, as well.
One sports betting initiative that was on the 2022 ballot, Proposition 27, would’ve legalized online sports betting. The initiative was backed by some of the largest online sportsbooks in the U.S., including DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
This proposition failed miserably last year. But if future legislation or initiatives enable those companies to enter California with online sportsbooks, it would seem probable that discussions of legalizing daily fantasy sports could also revive.