With $1 million on the line in Milly Maker, it’s no surprise that DraftKings wants to make sure that all rules, policies, procedures and fine print is followed to the letter before it cuts a check.

At the same time, any decision short of turning over the massive reward to a recent daily fantasy sports (DFS) winner, and reality TV series participant, might lead to a precedent-setting lawsuit that could shape the future of similar contests.  Undoubtedly, the top brass at the US-bassed sports gambling and DFS site is spending an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to make the call in what is ultimately going to be a highly-watched case that has allegations of collusion starting to fly.

The Milly Maker DraftKings Saga

The saga starts with Jade Ropert Tolbert, who previously appeared on The Bachelor.  She recently took first place in Milly Maker, an NFL tournament offered by DraftKings, after having purchased 150 of the $20 buy-in spots for a shot at the $1 million in guaranteed prize money.  Alongside Tolbert was her husband, Tanner Tolbert, who also dug in with 150 spots of his own.

In theory, this would give the two a total of 300 unique entries for the contest, which is a great way to improve the odds.  However, when the final results of the DraftKings Milly Maker were published, it didn’t take long for Tolbert to exclaim her excitement over being the first-place winner, tweeting, “Hahaha that’s me! Tanner told me I shouldn’t play [Seattle Seahawks wide receiver] DK Metcalf!”

And that last phrase is where everything begins to fall apart for the happy couple.  Activity of Milly Marker was in the public domain and Internet bloodhounds began to follow the trails.  Mr. & Mrs. Tolbert had used Metcalf in most of their lineups – 87% of his and 88% of hers – and this, combined with her admission that her husband had suggested she not play Metcalf was enough for everyone to start asserting that the two had colluded in the contest.

According to the Milly Maker terms and conditions posted by DraftKings, certain conduct is not allowed.  It refers to “Conduct that would be deemed improper” as being collusion “with any other individual(s) or engaging in any type of syndicate play,” or “Using a single Account to participate in a Contest on behalf of multiple entrants or otherwise collaborating with others to participate in any Contest.”

The company’s community page also says that the following is unacceptable: “Group play behavior designed to gain an unfair advantage over others” such as “Team-building complementary lineups which serve to work together AND executing a strategy that may create any unfair advantage over individual play” or “Entering the maximum number of entries in a contest, type of contest, or event, and having a 3rd party, regardless of their relationship, put in additional entries for you.”

According to the unofficial investigation led by followers of the competition, the picks shown for husband and wife Tolbert could not have been simply a mere coincidence.  They assert that various correlations prove that the two had to have been discussing each other’s playbook as the contest was underway, which would be a clear violation of the rules of the competition.

The allegations were bolstered by the fact that Jade Tolbert stuck with Saturday quarterbacks in virtually all of her picks – 95.33% of the time, to be exact.  On the other hand, Tanner Tolbert was found to have heavily favored the Sunday quarterbacks, picking them in 98.67% of his selections.  There was no even spread across the wild-card weekend for either of the two.

DraftKings initially tweeted a short congratulatory message to Jade before deleting it, ostensibly as a result of the public outcry.  The company has since only offered that it is looking into the situation, stating through a spokesperson, “We take the integrity and fairness of our contests very seriously and are looking into this matter.”

It would be near impossible for anyone to prove that collusion had taken place, even though the evidence lends itself to that conclusion.  Tanner Tolbert has said that Jade was simply “extremely lucky” in winning the competition, and DraftKings is in a tough spot.  If it hands out the award, more behind-closed-doors joining of forces will take place in future contests.  If it decides to not pay up, the Tolberts will most likely be ready to defend their winnings in court.