During tax season, Justin Van Zuiden, like most CPAs, will log 60+ hour workweeks and spend days on end staring at numbers on his computer screen.
Once his client work dies down – usually around the end of March – Van Zuiden’s office hours will go back to normal. But when he goes home, he’ll still spend a few extra hours each night managing salaries and projections on his computer.
Only in this case, the salaries are assigned to athletes, and the six-figure bankroll belongs to Van Zuiden.
Van Zuiden’s financial expertise isn’t limited to his full-time job. His analytical savvy also extends into the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, where the Sterling, Illinois native has become one of the most successful (and profitable) players in the world. The DFS industry has grown to a point where, on any given night, you can log on to a major site like FanDuel and see one-day contests offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes. These enormous prize pools have not only attracted an astonishing number of new players – FanDuel eclipsed the one million users milestone earlier this year – but also has spawned a community of diehard, stats-driven experts who have found consistent success playing DFS on a huge scale.
Van Zuiden, or “STLCardinals84” as he’s known in the DFS community, is in an elite tier of these players. He finished 5th in RotoGrinders.com’s 2014 Tournament Player of the Year race – a list in which four of the top 10 finalists won one-day fantasy prizes of $1 million or more. Currently, Van Zuiden sits in 8th in the 2015 rankings.
When asked about his winning formula, STLCardinals84 chalks up much of his success to his natural interests.
“I've been involved with accounting in some form for more than 15 years,” said Van Zuiden, who received his master’s degree in Tax Accounting from Northern Illinois University in 2007. “While it probably doesn't seem sexy to many, it's something I enjoy and have done all my life. I just have a flair for analytics, and it’s helped me succeed playing DFS.”
Van Zuiden pointed out that many other DFS professionals also have backgrounds in business and finance. What sets Van Zuiden apart from his peers, though, is his routine. With a wife, two boys ages 5 and 2, and essentially two full-time jobs, STLCardinals84 performs a daily juggling act.
“Most of my DFS activities happen the night before,” he said. “After my kids go to bed, I’ll spend about two hours doing research, building lineups, exploring pricing and just getting a head start for the next day. I can get about six hours of sleep and feel good, before I go to work and do my 8-5 routine.
“As with everything, once you get a routine down, things are easier to get used to. It's not always easy, though.”
Over the past three years, Van Zuiden has made more money playing DFS than he has as a CPA. With such a busy schedule, many wonder why STLCardinals84 doesn’t quit his job and focus on DFS full-time.
“A lot of my success in DFS has come as a high-volume, large-field tournament player, so my approach lends myself to very hot and cold streaks that can last a long time,” he explained. “The guarantees of a full-time job are unmatched. There's not any risk. But if you combine income from both, I’m able to live comfortably.
“It just comes second nature to being an accountant. I'm always a little skeptical."
As impressive as his winnings is Van Zuiden’s willingness to help new players and educate them on how to build better DFS lineups. Van Zuiden has spoken at “Daily Fantasy Boot Camp” seminars and is both a contributor of daily picks to RotoGrinders.com, as well as one of the site’s on-air personalities on its “Grinders Live” and Sirius XM Radio shows.
“Everything in my life has been intertwined to a degree,” he said. “I was a tutor in college. Now I work with clients at my day job and do everything I can to help them minimize their taxes within the law. The same goes for DFS. My personal successes have been great, but everything is more gratifying if I’m able to help folks along the way.”
And the one piece of advice he’d give to new players trying DFS for the first time?
“Monitor your dollars closely,” he cautioned. “It's easy to see your balance and get click-happy entering contests, especially if you've had some early success. But you should always think of $20 on FanDuel like you would spending a $20 bill on the street and treat it the same. Learning to manage your bankroll is critical to success long-term.”
Spoken like a true accountant.