DraftKings is hosting its inaugural Sports Betting National Championship on Friday through Sunday in New Jersey with a $10,000 buy-in and a guaranteed $1 million first-place prize, but it’s turning into a true national event.
Poker legend Phil Hellmuth is coming from California. Several professional gamblers/sports bettors from Las Vegas are going, including David Miller, Anthony Curtis and Frank Betti as well as VSiN’s very own Gill Alexander and Kenny White. And another professional gambler, Randy McKay (VSiN’s 2017 Fan of the year) flew in from North Dakota on Wednesday morning.
“I haven’t been able to travel to other states where sports betting has recently become legalizes, so I kinda wanted to see what kinds of options are available in New Jersey,” said McKay, who will be celebrating his 49th birthday on Saturday (and really hopes to be celebrating Sunday night!). “The title would be great, but what really makes the trip worth it is there’s a good chance it’s going to be an overlay.”
The entry fee is $10,000 with $5,000 going to the prize pool and $5,000 being used as a live bankroll on each entrant’s DraftKings sports betting app. Players must make all their wagers on the app from within New Jersey’s state borders. They can play any sports that’s available on the app on Friday and Saturday (must bet a minimum of $1,000 by the end of Saturday’s betting day), but Sunday’s menu will only include the two NFL divisional playoff games (minimum wager of $2,000). The other great thing about this type of contest is you get to keep your final bankroll in your account, even if you don’t finish in the money (and, of course, any contest winnings are a bonus on top of your earnings).
As of early Friday afternoon, John Avello, director of race & sports operations at DraftKings, said there were 242 entrants signed up (Even though the contest officially started on Friday, Avello reminds interested contestants that no plays are required on Friday and that registration will remain open until 1 p.m. ET Saturday). There is a $300 administrative fee taken out of each entry, but with the guaranteed $2.5 million prize pool, it would take more than 531 entrants to make their nut.
“We’re perfectly fine with taking a loss on this contest this year,” Avello said. “These things take time to build, so for anyone that’s already planning to bet $5,000 this weekend, why wouldn’t you take a shot at the added money in the prize pool?”
Before joining DraftKings this past fall after 39 years in the Las Vegas gambling industry, Avello had tons of experience hosting contests from his 15-year tenure as race & sports director at Bally’s and then the last 13 years at Wynn Las Vegas, including hosting horse racing’s National Handicapping Championship at Bally’s from 2003-2007.
Contest details are available at draftkings.com/sbnc. Avello said the $10,000 entry fee can be wired or sent through PayPal; he advises interested players to email firstname.lastname@example.org to get personalized assistance in going through the registration process as well as hotel accommodations. He also said that those who prefer to bring $10,000 in cash must deposit at the Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City.
That’s the x-factor in this running of this tournament: we can guesstimate that a couple dozen sports gamblers/advantage players will fly in from Vegas with the lure of the overlay, but we have no idea how many from New Jersey and its surrounding states will be signing up at the last minute (note: Scott Panza, of Stamford, Conn., who just won $409,000 for finishing second in the SuperContest at the Westgate SuperBook, said he’s part of a group entry in the SBNC).
While entrants can make their wagers on the app from anywhere within Jersey’s borders, DraftKings is also renting a warehouse at 217 16th Street in Jersey City for contestants to watch the games Saturday and Sunday with food and beverage service, along with a live leaderboard. Non-participants can also get in for $100, which includes food and beverages. Avello said the leaderboard will also be available online and players can view other players’ bets 30 minutes after they make them. That certainly adds another element of strategy to the SBNC.
While the contestants I contacted didn’t want to reveal their specific strategies, Panza said: “It’s going to be very interesting to see how everyone plays this. It’s not like the SuperContest that has a lot of history. There’s only the four NFL games, so I’m sure some people who consider themselves college or pro basketball experts will be betting a lot of those, but then do you make big bets on a few games or bet a bunch of parlays? It should be an exciting contest.”
Sports Betting National Championship Payouts
1st place $1,000,000
2nd place $350,000
3rd place $250,000
4th place $175,000
5th place $100,000
6th-7th place $75,000
8th-10th place $50,000
11th-15th place $25,000
16th-25th place $15,000
*Guaranteed $2.5 million purse; payoffs based on 531 or fewer entrants.