The arrival of football season, both collegiate and professional, is right around the corner! And before the NCAA and NFL action kicks off on the gridiron, thousands of pigskin prognosticators will line up in Las Vegas to enter the greatest sports betting competitions Sin City has to offer. For entry fees as low as a few hundred bucks, up to $1,500 and $5,000 for the higher-end contests, anybody can compete in handicapping contests that challenge sports bettors to excel all season long for their share of multimillion-dollar prize pools.
The allure of turning a little into a lot once led to the famed “Poker Boom,” as the World Series of Poker (WSOP), World Poker Tour (WPT), and other tours parlayed the tournament format into millions of new players worldwide. That particular boom has faded away in recent years thanks to the prohibition of regulated online poker in all but a few states. But sports betting contests have stepped up to fill the proverbial void.
Over the last decade, the major sports prediction competitions have grown by leaps and bounds, increasing field sizes from a few hundred to several thousand, all while prize pools have climbed in kind.
As is the case with traditional sports wagering, football reigns supreme among the betting public, but all of the major sports and leagues offer similarly styled contests for fans to choose from.
The basic premise of these contests involves picking a set number of game results each week, typically using a standard point spread. Correct choices produce points for the player, and by season’s end, the contestant sporting the highest point total claims the lion’s share of the prize pool. Smaller prizes are then distributed to folks who finish in the upper echelon of the field, creating a tournament-like structure that sports fans can’t get enough of.
Thanks to the advent of proxy services, companies based in Las Vegas which charge players a small fee in exchange for submitting their official picks each week, you don’t have to be a local to get in on the fun. All it takes is one trip to the desert, an appointment with a reputable proxy service, and cash in hand to stamp your ticket into some of the most exciting gambling opportunities Las Vegas has ever devised.
As recounted to ESPN Chalk in a recent retrospective on the sports contest industry, Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSiN) senior reporter Dave Tuley has watched the competitions evolve from promotional gambit to full-fledged enterprises of their own:
“Contests in Vegas casinos—football, horse racing, slots—have always been about driving people into the property so that they then stay for dinner, go to a show, gamble in the casino.”
In the same ESPN Chalk interview, legendary Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro explained how casinos originally used sports betting contests as a hook to lure gamblers onto the property:
“Casinos don’t make any money from contests, but back then you came in to pick up your ticket and then you brought it back in—which means we got you two more times during the week.”
Nowadays, the biggest casinos in town take pride in running premier contests that offer more bang for your gambling buck than any other option on the floor. A set buy-in of $1,500 might seem a bit steep at first, but when you stretch that sum out over a 17-week NFL season, you’re essentially enjoying a full Sunday’s worth of sweat for less than $100 per week.
With plenty of time still left to get yourself to Las Vegas and sign up for a football picks competition, I’ve decided to put my years of experience participating in picks contests to good use. This page is the first in a series I like to call my “Complete Guide to the Top Sports Betting Competitions in Las Vegas.”
I’ll start out by covering the mother of all sports betting contests, the iconic Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, but be sure to check back here for full primers on all of the other big-time pick pools running in the world’s gambling capital.
History of the Westgate SuperContest
Back in 1987, when the property was still known as the Las Vegas Hilton, the venue known today as the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino opened the doors to its new sportsbook.
But clocking in at over 30,000 square feet of floor space, and featuring the largest video screen in all of Las Vegas, the Westgate SuperBook instantly became the world’s largest sportsbook facility.
At the time, Art Manteris managed the mammoth operation, and it was him who envisioned an annual NFL handicapping contest a la the WSOP.
Whereas the WSOP drew the world’s greatest poker pros to convene at the Binion’s Horseshoe casino back then, each hoping to earn the crown of World Champion, the innovative Manteris envisioned the sports betting industry’s top wise guys and whales setting up shop at his Westgate SuperBook.
Thus, Manteris devised the SuperContest, an NFL picks competition that forms the foundation from which all other sports betting contests are built.
For a set buy-in of $1,500, players put their name in the SuperContest mix. You’ll learn more about how the SuperContest works in the next section, but sufficed to say, the deceptively simple “five picks per week against the spread” system envisioned by Manteris proved to be an immediate hit amongst his bookmakers and bettors alike.
For the next 20 years or so, the SuperContest held a special status among sports bettors, operating as a “local’s game” that catered to a couple hundred hardcore professional handicappers based in Las Vegas.
That all changed in 2004, coincidentally the period that sparked poker’s boom era after Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event one year before, after Jay Kornegay was hired on to manage the SuperBook as vice president and head bookmaker.
Under the shrewd marketing of Kornegay, who encouraged proxy services to set up camp and facilitate entries from out of state players, attendance topped the 500-player plateau for the first time in 2005. And it never looked back from there…
Last year’s SuperContest drew an astounding 3,213 entries—players are permitted up to two entries apiece, so several thousand unique entrants ponied up the $1,500 to try their hand at pro-level handicapping—setting a new highwater mark for the eighth straight year.
That mark is sure to fall this year too, after Kornegay extended the registration period from the usual July 1st date to March 1st.
As Kornegay told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the extra four months of registration are designed to allow visitors who hit Las Vegas during football’s offseason to get their entry in:
“We always discussed opening up enrollment earlier to accommodate year-round visitors, especially those that come in for other big events like March Madness or the Kentucky Derby or the beginning of baseball season. We thought the timing was right.”
Last year’s SuperContest champion was Eric Kahane of California, who turned his $1,500 ticket into $1.4 million in winnings after reeling off an impressive 59-25-1 record for a staggering 70.2% success rate against the spread. Previous winners have hailed from the pro handicapper ranks, but in 2017, local barista Damon Graham continued a streak of recreational players summiting the SuperContest peak to score a life-changing $900,000 payout.
And in a first for the SuperContest, which traditionally paid out the top-50 finishers, the highest 100 point-earners last year collected at least the minimum cash of $2,267.
Kornegay expects the 2019 SuperContest to attract well over 4,000 entries, and with a small tweak the payout scheme reducing its “top-heavy” nature, anyone who reaches the top-100 by season’s end will ensure themselves a healthy rebate on the entry fee.
To learn more about the origins and evolution of the Westgate SuperContest straight from the horse’s mouth, check out this awesome oral history of the event published by ESPN.
How the Westgate SuperContest Works
After signing up personally at the Westgate SuperBook, alongside your designated local proxy if you’re from out-of-state, you’ll pay $1,500 apiece for up to two SuperContest entries.
This year, you have until 11:00 AM local time on September 7th to enter. The deadline for eligibility in an Early Sign Up Bonus mini-contest is 4:00 PM on September 12th.
Players who enter before this deadline become eligible for a $15,000 prize, awarded to whomever scores the highest point total over the final three weeks of the SuperContest.
Beginning with Week 1 of the NFL regular season, players submit (personally or by proxy) their five picks against the spread for that week’s slate of games. Picks must be submitted at the Westgate SuperBook cage by 11:00 AM on Saturday before Sunday’s games or before kickoff of any non-Sunday game.
When picking a Thursday or Saturday game, players must submit their entire five-pick card at that time.
The SuperContest uses internally generated point spreads which are released to the public every Wednesday at roughly 5:00 PM. These point spreads remain fixed, so midweek injuries, roster changes, and inclement weather which might change the standard sportsbook industry spread don’t have any impact on SuperContest lines.
Picks are scored using 1 point covering the spread, 0.5 points for a push, and 0 points for failing to cover. Thus, a perfect 5-0 week generates 5 points for that player, while a competitor going 2-2-1 against the spread would earn 2.5 points.
Players range from pure amateurs flying by gut instinct alone to teams of pros wielding supercomputer algorithms to guide their selection process. SuperContest strategies run the gamut, but most successful players tend to “fade the public,” or bet against the grain by taking underdogs with the points.
Point totals accumulate throughout the season’s 17 weeks of action, and the top-100 finishers wind up in the money to earn at least the minimum cash.
In the event of a tie by season’s end, players in the money with identical point totals will split the originally posted payout equally.
SuperContest winners typically post cover rates of 65-70%, which represents a torrid run of correct selections given the professional bettor’s benchmark of success stands at 54%.
After deducting $120 in service fees for the house, your $1,500 entry in the SuperContest sends $1,380 into the collective prize pool.
The number of entries obviously dictates how large that prize pool will grow, but you can get a sense of how the SuperContest payouts work using last year’s results:
2018 Westgate SuperContest Results
2nd-3rd (2 Way Tie)*
6th-9th (4 Way Tie)
10th-11th (2 Way Tie)
12th-15th (4 Way Tie)
16th-25th (10 Way Tie)
26th-34th (9 Way Tie)
35th-55th (21 Way Tie)
56th-77th (22 Way Tie)
78th-100th (23 Way Tie)
*All tied payouts represent equal cuts from all original one-player payouts. Thus, two players tying for 2nd and 3rd split the combined payouts of $517,168 and $301,681, respectively, for $409,425 each
Those numbers reflect a 3,213-entry field and a prize pool of $4.43 million, but the payouts should increase significantly if Kornegay reaches his 4,000-entry target this time around.
The winner is guaranteed to take home 32% of the total prize pool, while the runner-up gets an 11% cut, and third place is good for 6%. From there, payouts decrease from 4.75% (fourth place) to 0.05 % (81st-100th places) on a de-escalating scale.
In addition to these main prizes paid at season’s end, players can win the “1st Quarter Bonus” or “Halftime Bonus” for $15,000 each. Whomever holds the highest point total after four weeks wins the 1st Quarter Bonus, while the highest point total after the first eight weeks claims the Halftime Bonus.
The Westgate SuperContest is a true Las Vegas icon, right up there with the Bellagio’s dancing fountains and the MGM Grand’s roaring lion entrance. Football fans from all over the country avail themselves of local proxies to compete in what Sin City bookmaker Kenny White famously dubbed the “World Series of Sports Betting.” And for good reason, what with Kornegay and his world-class staff at the SuperBook supervising things flawlessly, and truly life-changing sums of cash up for grabs.
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 GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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