Lithia gambler wins $1 million playing fantasy football

Matt Smith, Chip the dog, young Chandler and wife Amanda spend time  at home Friday. Smith plays daily fantasy football in the winter, and baseball and golf in the summer.
Matt Smith, Chip the dog, young Chandler and wife Amanda spend time at home Friday. Smith plays daily fantasy football in the winter, and baseball and golf in the summer.
Published Oct. 11, 2014

TAMPA — Matt Smith didn't care who won Monday night's football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Washington Redskins as long as wide receiver DeSean Jackson didn't do well.

Heading into Monday, Smith's fantasy football team sat atop 92,400 others. At stake was $1 million. And the only person who could take it away from him was Washington's Jackson.

There were only a few other teams within striking distance of Smith's, one of which included Jackson. All of Smith's players had competed on Sunday, leaving him with no one to root for but someone to root against.

"It literally came down to the last play," said Smith, 32, of Lithia. "The Redskins got the ball back with 20 seconds left, and if DeSean caught like a 56-yard pass or a touchdown, I would have lost."

But Jackson didn't, and Smith became one of the bay area's newest millionaires.

Smith isn't like most fantasy football players, who compete in office pools or with college buddies. He does it for a living.

He began his gambling career playing online poker while at Florida State University studying hospitality administration. Smith never planned on gambling full time. But after doing well on, the website awarded him a free seat in the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas in the summer of 2005.

"That was like two months after I graduated," Smith said, "so I put off getting a job."

He busted on the first day of the tournament but entered another one with a $1,000 buy-in. He finished second, earning $98,000 — his biggest win until Monday, he said — which he used to launch his career.

Some years have proven better than others, Smith said, but the family has enough saved to outlast the slumps.

"There are definitely ups and downs, and the income is definitely not stable," he said. "Bankroll management is a huge part of poker and daily fantasy, so you're not losing enough to risk it all."

Now Smith, married to Amanda, 31, with a 20-month-old son named Chandler and a cocker spaniel named Chip, lives in a small corner house, with a large black leather sectional couch and kids toys about.

He said he's not interested in splurging on any toys of his own.

But Amanda, whom he met at FSU, is looking for a bigger house.

"I think you need an office," Amanda, a stay-at-home mom, said to her husband. "And we could use a playroom."

Matt Smith got into daily fantasy sports in 2011 when, he said, the government cracked down on online poker sites.

Daily fantasy sports are similar to season-long fantasy sports, the main difference being that daily participants draft new teams every day — or in football's case, every week.

Smith plays daily fantasy football in the winter and baseball and golf in the summer. He'll dabble in basketball, too.

"Basically anything but hockey," he said. "I don't know anything about hockey."

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Last weekend, Smith entered 60 teams into the daily fantasy tournament at $27 each, totaling $1,620. He spent about $2,000 in other fantasy competitions. That's typical for him, he said, during football season. During baseball season, Smith said he'll wager $2,000 to $3,000 a day. And even though his fantasy account balance currently reflects $1,013,419.76, he said he'll probably spend only a few hundred dollars more per weekend.

He conducts his fantasy business through DraftKings. Jason Robins, 33, founder and CEO of the Boston-based company, said daily fantasy has exploded.

"When we first started (in 2012), the largest prizes were $5,000 or $10,000," Robins said. "And now we're offering a million dollars, so you can get a picture of how quickly it's grown from that."

DraftKings awarded $2.2 million in total prize money in Smith's tournament last weekend and the top 15,500 teams won a prize. Robins said the company is running the same tournament this week and for at least the next few.

Smith will be shooting for another million.

"I figure I'll enter at least 60 teams, maybe a few more. We'll see," he said.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 226-3446 or Follow @josh_solomon15.