Guide to the 2019 Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge

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With the arrival of football season, college teams across the country will suit up to represent their schools in NCAA action, while the 32 pro teams in the NFL will vie for the Super Bowl. And the while, fans will sweat every tackle and touchdown by betting on the NFL and NCAA’s biggest games.

Football is the biggest economic engine for sportsbooks in Las Vegas, drawing fans from far and wide to put a little dough on their favorite teams. Single-game tickets, parlays, props, and futures betting combine to bring football fans to the sportsbook in droves. But over the last decade or so, sports betting contests have become an increasingly popular segment of the overall market.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a sports betting competition utilizes a tournament format, a la the big poker games you see on TV. Players pony up a set entry fee, typically between $500 and $1,500 for most of the major sports betting contests running in Sin City, before setting to work picking a slate of games against the point spread.

Back in the day, the Golden Nugget casino in Downtown Las Vegas was one of the venues experimenting with pick contests as a marketing angle. The Golden Nugget’s original football handicapping competition was known as the Friday Football Showdown, and players paid $2,000 to submit seven NCAA or NFL picks per week.

The old Friday Football Showdown was unique in that it used an actual tournament bracket format, pitting players against one another week by week until only one was left standing.

That all changed in 2018, however, when Golden Nugget sportsbook director Tony Miller overhauled the old format to create his Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge.

History of the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge

To usher in the new Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge era, Miller scrapped the bracket-style gameplay in favor of a pooled points system.

In other words, he went with the Westgate SuperContest route, with players trying to rack up the highest point total by seasons’ end through sharp selection on a weekly basis.

Miller also cut the old buy-in of $2,000 in half, so players entering the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge only need $1,000 to get in the game ($500 less than the SuperContest entry fee).

In yet another departure from the SuperContest, Miller preserved the old Friday Football Showdown’s use of both NCAA and NFL games.

Instead of choosing five sides from the NFL slate like in the SuperContest, the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge has players select seven sides from the full NCAA + NFL schedules.

Speaking with the Vegas Stats and Information Network before last year’s inaugural contest kicked off, Miller explained how the use of college and professional games makes the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge unique among Las Vegas sports betting competitions. He also pointed out that his Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge offers football fans an alternative to the NFL-only SuperContest.

“We’re expecting a lot of entries for this. It’s a true handicapping contest because we have every game on the board available – all college and NFL sides – and that’s a big thing… The SuperContest is great because it’s so big. I’m not going to say this is better, but there needs to be another big contest that includes college football.”

In 2017, the final Friday Football Showdown ever held attracted only 95 players, a pale comparison to the 2,748 entries generated by that year’s SuperContest.

But one year later, Miller’s adjustments in creating the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge sparked an immediate increase in interest, with 308 entries joining the party. That uptick can be explained both by the price reduction and a provision allowing individual players up to three separate entries apiece.

Rich Velez took home the title as champion last year, reeling off a gaudy 81-36-2 record for a cover rate of 69.2%. That performance was good enough to claim the $119,200 top prize payout, while the rest of the top-20 took home lesser prizes.

How the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge Works

Players have until Tuesday, September 3rd at 10 PM local time to register for the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge.

Sign-ups take place at the Golden Nugget Sportsbook in Downtown Las Vegas, and if you’re planning to play from out of state, your designated proxy will need to be in attendance to complete the necessary paperwork.

The entry fee is $1,000, with every dime going into the prize pool and no rake for the house.

Players can enter up to three times.

From there, the contest involves picking seven games against the spread from the NCAA and/or NFL schedule each week during the leagues’ respective regular seasons. That means 17 weeks of action are on tap, and the goal is to wind up with the highest point total by season’s end.

Correctly picking a side that covers the point spread is good for 1 point, while a push produces 0.5 points, and failing to cover generates 0 points.

Picks must be submitted by Friday at 10:00 PM, either in person or through your designated proxy service.

The point spreads used for the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge are created by the in-house bookmaker, and they’re released to the public at 2:00 PM every Wednesday afternoon.

Here is a full rundown on all of the fine print concerning rules and regulations.

Prize Money up for Grabs

Last year’s debut field of 309 entries created a total prize pool of $309,000, of which 40 % was awarded to champion Rich Velez.

As for the rest of the payouts, check out the table below to see the prizes 2018 Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge competitors played for:

Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge Payouts

Place Payout
1st $119,200
2nd $59,600
3rd $29,800
4th-5th $20,860
6th-7th $14,900
8th-10th $5,960
11th-20th $1,000

After 40% of the total prize pool is awarded to the winner, the runner-up pockets 20%, third place wins 10%, fourth and fifth place take 7 % each, sixth and seventh place earn 5% each, and eighth, ninth, and 10th place receive 2% each.

As for the 11th through 20th place finishers, a $1,000 payout means they make their original buy-in back to break even.

Now that the word is out on the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge, expect the field to grow this year, and the prize pool to swell in kind. Velez won $119,200 in this contest’s first crack at it, so a top payout of $150,000 this year (based on an estimated field size of 375 entries) is entirely possible.


When most folks hear the term “football betting,” their mind immediately goes to the NFL, where the world’s best players take the field every Sunday. But on Saturdays, the NFL stars of the future hone their craft playing NCAA football and, for millions of Americans, the college game is their true passion.

With most of the major Las Vegas sports betting contests revolving around the NFL only, the Golden Nugget Ultimate Football Challenge’s ingenious inclusion of NCAA games is a huge bonus for diehard college fans.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for since early 2016. ...

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