A woman named Jade Roper Tolbert took home the US$1 million top prize in this past weekend's DraftKings Millionaire Maker daily fantasy contest, in which contestants assembled lineups from the players in the four NFL wild-card playoff games. Usually, the winners of such contests go unnoticed outside the world of hardcore daily fantasy sports players, but Tolbert's status as a former contestant on "The Bachelor" reality-TV show - she appeared on the show's 19th season along with Season 2 of its "Bachelor in Paradise" spinoff, both airing in 2015 - gave her victory a little more attention than usual.
Using terminology well known to "Bachelor" fans, DraftKings tweeted out its congratulations to Tolbert on Sunday night after she ended up atop the Millionaire Maker standings. This tweet was taken down Monday morning.
Tolbert acknowledged her victory after a Twitter user recognised her from "The Bachelor." She said she went against the advice of her husband - Tanner Tolbert, himself a contestant of "The Bachelorette" Season 11 and "Bachelor in Paradise" Season 2, where the two met - and started Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf, who had a massive game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday evening and whose game-sealing 36-yard catch in the final minutes gave Jade Roper Tolbert the victory.
But almost immediately after her win, accusations of collusion began to fly among daily fantasy sports players on social media. Observers noted that Jade Tolbert and Tanner Tolbert each submitted the maximum 150 entries for the Millionaire Maker contest and that their entries seemed coordinated so that they generated the maximum number of possible lineups.
For instance, a renowned daily fantasy sports expert and sports gambler named William Bierman noted that Jade Tolbert's lineups contained almost zero quarterbacks who were started by her husband, with the former starting Deshaun Watson, Ryan Tannehill and Josh Allen in 95.33% of her lineups and the latter starting Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz in 98.67% of his.
The rest of the lineups submitted by the two daily fantasy sports players mostly overlapped, and despite Jade Tolbert's claim that her husband told her not to start Metcalf, the Seahawks wide receiver was in 88% of the lineups she submitted and 78.67% of her husband's.
"We each put in our separate players, in our separate accounts and rooted for own players," Tanner Tolbert told ESPN in a phone interview Monday. "No one has ever said a peep about us when we lost for 17 straight weeks. Then, of course, somehow Jade picked the right lineup, got the million and the spotlight got shown on it. And people, especially since she's a woman, assume that I do it all for her. If I had won, I bet no one would've raised a flag.
"I thought Drew Brees and Carson Wentz would have big days," Tolbert told ESPN. "Obviously, I was wrong. But Jade definitely wanted to go with the other quarterbacks. I think partly she likes rooting against me."
DraftKings is investigating whether the Tolberts colluded with each other. "We take the integrity and fairness of our contests very seriously and are looking into this matter," the company said in a statement released Monday morning.
"I understand everyone wants answers and we are trying to work quickly, but I personally just learned about this within the past hour or two," DraftKings CEO Jason Robins wrote on Twitter Monday afternoon.
Through agent Paul Desisto, the Tolberts issued a statement Monday evening, in which they described the win as "pure luck" and questioned whether the accusations of collusion were motivated by sexism and the fact that the husband and wife already were in the public eye.
"We respect that Draft Kings feels they must do their due diligence in regard to Jade winning their US$1 million dollar prize for the fantasy contest for the NFL's wild-card round this weekend," the statement read. "Though we must ponder, would the questions, accusations and curiosity about this win be the same if the winner had been male and someone who wasn't already in the public eye? It is incredibly important for us to establish that Jade's win is nothing more than pure luck and we are confident that Draft Kings will determine the same."
DFS players collude to circumvent limits on the number of entries in a contest and to improve their chances of victory by submitting multiple lineups. DraftKings forbids such collusion, calling coordination between multiple players "unacceptable behavior" on the "Community Guidelines" section of its website.
Some states that have daily fantasy sports regulations in place also limit the number of entries one player may submit in each contest (the limit usually is 150 or 3% of the total number of entries by all players for any contest, whichever is less). Some states, such as Massachusetts, also require daily fantasy companies to ban players who attempt to play with more than one account. New York's rules state that "operators must take reasonable steps to prevent authorized players from submitting more than the allowable number of entries per contest."
Daily fantasy sports exploded onto the sports landscape in the middle of the last decade, with advertisements promising large jackpots to average Joes saturating the television airwaves during NFL games. But companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel soon were the subject of scrutiny from lawmakers - who debated whether DFS constitutes gambling - and the media, who found that high-volume players - "often aided by computer scripts and optimisation software that allow players to submit hundreds or even thousands of lineups at a time," the New York Times reported in 2015 - were winning most of the prizes at the expense of more inexperienced players. A 2015 McKinsey study cited by the Times, for instance, found that in the first half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, 91% of the prize money was won by only 1.3% of the players.
To combat this negative press, daily fantasy sports operators instituted limits on the number of entries each player may submit and crafted rules prohibiting players from colluding with one another. Nevertheless, such rules have been difficult to enforce.