Eric Crain took a nap and woke up $10,000 richer.
It was April 21, and Crain had spent the past few hours on DraftKings.com building a series of 30 lineups to enter into one of the day’s fantasy baseball tournaments.
In his last lineup, he took a gamble and stacked six Cincinnati Reds players, in the hopes that the team performed well in their upcoming game with the Milwaukee Brewers. And then he dozed.
“So, I wake up about three hours later, and I have 20 text messages on my phone, and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’” the Murphysboro native recalled this week.
While he slumbered, the Reds had bested the Brewers in a monster 16-10 win — and Crain’s final lineup had performed well. Very well. In a field of about 100,000 fantasy players from coast to coast, Crain placed fifth. The $10,000 take remains his biggest to date.
For Southern Illinois fans of daily fantasy sports websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.com, the stakes are high in the impending legislative effort to regulate the sites.
State Rep. Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, said earlier this week that he planned to file an amendment to a proposal that would call for more oversight of the websites. On Friday, he said, instead he’ll be introducing a new bill on Tuesday that, if passed, will regulate the industry.
“There’s a gray area right now in what these things are,” Zalewski said. “Are they gambling, or are they games of skill? When you have people putting money into escrow accounts online, you want to make sure that it’s protected, and the way you do that is by writing a strong state statute.”
Illinois wouldn’t be the first state to do so. Legislators in Louisiana and Massachusetts have introduced bills. Nevada lawmakers recently required online fantasy companies to apply for a state license.
Zalewski declined to offer details about how his bill might work, but advocates of regulation have championed basic consumer protections — making sure the deck isn’t stacked too heavily against players, for example, and requiring sites to register with the state.
For some Southern Illinoisans who have come to love the websites, even that feels like too much government intervention.
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Greg Russell, a Marion construction worker who has won about $400 on DraftKings over the past few weeks, said he fears regulation might go the way of online poker. Back in 2006, Congress’s regulation of that industry led to most sites shutting down.
“I think they need to leave it alone and let the United States still be a free country, and quit telling me what I do and do not want,” he said.
“I’m still bitter about online poker."
Still, for Crain, who now lives in Belleville, a little regulation is welcome, as long as the sites stay open.
“I completely trust FanDuel and DraftKings,” he said. “I wouldn’t be putting my money on the line if I didn’t. But at the same time, … any time there’s this much money at stake, abuse of power is possible. It’s important to have regulation in place.”
These days, Crain splits his time between online poker and daily fantasy tournaments. Between the two, he makes a living.
He’s built his fantasy skills over the past three years, but, he said, he still has a lot to learn. Even four hours of research each day can’t guarantee a win.
“(People are) playing a little bit more of a game-theory game,” he said. “They’re doing a bit more research. A lot of them have created computer models that take in every bit of information you could imagine.”
But algorithms and game theory and Vegas-style strategy don’t dissuade Crain — or countless others — from trying their luck anyway, and occasionally winning big.
“That’s going to be any industry,” he said. “Any industry where there’s money involved, there are going to be people who put in the extra work and try to make a living at it. If the potential is there and it’s possible to do, I’m going to try to do it.”