DraftKings has already crowned 10 millionaires in its weekly ‘Millionaire Maker’ contests alone so far in 2014 – and if things fall right this week at the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic they might just help make another.
Through weekly GPP (guaranteed prizepool) tournaments during the NFL season, DraftKings qualified 13 players for $12,600 prize packages that included seats to the WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic – where the first place prize is guaranteed to be well over $1 million.
“We ran qualifiers every week from Week 1 of the football season all the way through Week 13,” said Jon Aguiar, the DraftKings Director of Customer Experience (and a WSOP bracelet winner). “Brandon Adams won the last one, and Bryan Micon was another winner. Two-Plus-Two’ers would likely recognize Kyle Johnson, who’s another one of our qualifiers, and ‘CSURAM88′, Peter Jennings, was a poker player before Black Friday who eventually transitioned over to playing DFS.”
It’s been quite a year for Jennings, who won the $1 million top prize in the DraftKings Fantasy Baseball Championship at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas in August. There’s a lot of crossover interest between the poker and daily fantasy world for players like Jennings – and the legal landscape has helped channel some of the most successful DFS players back into poker in some ways.
“I think this is the most money that’s been put into a tournament by any entity since before UIGEA, maybe,” said Aguiar. “PokerStars was putting people into the [WSOP] Main Event but they were just giving players the money. We have a relationship where we’re able to wire the money to the Bellagio to put our players in.”
For Micon, his entrance into daily fantasy was inspired by a friend as the logical and profitable expansion of other sports betting interests.
“My buddy Nick Crepas came to me last year – he had been playing the early versions of DraftKings and FanDuel before it got bananas somewhat recently,” said Micon. “We’re both statistical analysis nerds, and we both enjoy spreadsheeting, and projecting and modeling football. We were doing this for props and other betting and just adapted it to DFS.”
Micon and Crepas are now at the point where they put in a lot of volume – which included taking a couple shots at a WPT Five Diamond prize package.
“They did a deal on DraftKings, a GPP, which is basically a tournament for all of you poker players,” said Micon. “$55 entries, very top-heavy with a $12,000 package for the winner. I entered three weeks in a row, maybe three-to-five bullets each week, and binked it on the third try. I also cashed a couple times, so I wasn’t in for very much.”
As is generally the case, the contest came down to the very last game of the week on a Monday night.
“Antonio Brown was the sweat going into Monday Night,” said Micon. “I specifically recall a rare date night with my wife; we have a two year old, so it’s tough to get out, regardless of income. I saw my wife scream ‘Antonio Brown’ for a touchdown, and she’s not a sports fan of any sport outside of Georgia football. DraftKings got my wife to scream for a touchdown not being overturned, which I found pretty impressive.”
It’s provided Micon with the ability to play one of the biggest poker tournaments of the year – an event he says he wouldn’t have otherwise played.
“It’s unlikely I would have played,” said Micon. “Like I said, I have a two-year-old, so even with the recent rise in bitcoin price over the last few years I just couldn’t justify leaving the house [every day] for a seven day tournament had I not satellited in on DraftKings.”
With Micon as one of 13 qualifiers in the WPT Five Diamond field, among other veteran poker players, there’s a good chance one or a few of them could make a deep run. If things go as Aguiar hopes in the coming year, there could be even more DraftKings qualifiers in this event come 2015.
“We’re planning on growing,” said Aguiar. “Obviously, [the big daily fantasy action for] football season is over, but thinking forward to next season and what we’ll be able to do. We might have 30 or 40 guys in this tournament, which is just crazy.”
The future of daily fantasy sports is bright indeed, and Micon sees a lot of parallels between their current environment and online poker in 2003 and 2004. The big difference is that there’s solid legal and financial infrastructure that makes daily fantasy players comfortable – knowing their money is safe and secure.
“I can see a hell of a lot of people who really only had access to shady forms of sports gambling potentially transitioning into something they can use their PayPal account for,” said Micon. “You’ve seen the massive rounds of funding of late, and you can assume that a lot of people are betting this is going to blow up even further.”
While daily fantasy appears to have smooth sailing and a further explosion of popularity on its horizon, the expansion of legal online poker in the United States has stalled for a number of reasons. There are a lot of parallels between daily fantasy and online poker – in their operation and gameplay – and in the end, that’s only going to help online poker in Aguiar’s estimation.
“I think people just look at it, and it’s obviously a game of skill,” said Aguiar. “Why can we have one and not the other? Having come from poker it doesn’t make much sense to me. I really do believe that Daily Fantasy is going to act like a bridge to other forms of skill gaming – and I think poker is just one of those games. Poker is on its way now; there’s this silly state-by-state thing going on right now, and all things with Sheldon Adelson and Harry Reid, but in the end I think logic is going to win out.”
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