Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that threatened to keep football contest players from coming to
Las Vegas to enter its handicapping contests, Circa Sports Million II not only topped its inaugural effort of last year but overtook the long-running Westgate SuperContest as the biggest contest in town.
Circa Sports Million II closed at 2 p.m. PT Saturday with an incredible 3,148 entries (especially under the circumstance) at $1,000 apiece after drawing 1,875 entries last year, while the $1,500 buy-in SuperContest closed at 3 p.m. PT with 1,172 entries, down from last year’s record of 3,328. For the uninitiated, both contests require contestants to make five NFL picks a week against the spread. Circa Sports Million II’s total is actually the second-highest entry total ever for a high-end Vegas football handicapping contest, topping the SuperContest’s 3,123 in 2018.
Actually, the inaugural $1,000 buy-in Circa Survivor (where you pick one team a week to win straight-up and can’t use the same team twice) also outdrew the SuperContest this year with 1,390 entries and will have a winner-take-all prize of $1.39 million for the entrant that lasts the longest.
Derek Stevens, owner of Circa Sports as well as the D and Golden Gate hotels in downtown Las Vegas as well as Glitter Gulch’s first megaresort (which is also named Circa), launched the first Circa Sports Million contest last June when he started his own sportsbook operation. He guaranteed a $1.5 million prize pool (meaning they would need to attract 1,500 entries to make their nut) with a guaranteed first-place prize and had an impressive 1,875 entries. Stevens said he’s always loved contests and playing for million-dollar payoffs, so that’s why he wanted to make sure his contest offered a $1 million jackpot.
A little-known fact is that in December of last year, Stevens and his staff hosted a lunch for the proxies that signed up those first-year entrants to get their input on how to make CIrca’s contests even bigger. At that time, Stevens hinted at a bigger guarantee and also adding a separate Survivor contest. When announcing the 2020 contests in February, Stevens guaranteed $3 million for Circa Sports Million II and another $1 million for Circa Survivor.
And even after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the city’s brick-and-mortar casinos from March 18 through June 3, he stuck to the guarantees and advertised far and wide that these contests would be the biggest overlay in Vegas history.
“We were really excited to add the Survivor contest to our portfolio this year in addition to improving the Circa Sports Million and thought guaranteeing $4 million was an attainable goal to achieve,” said Jeffrey Benson, Circa sportsbook operations manager. “Obviously the pandemic made things challenging, but we are beyond thrilled to have gone over the guarantees this year all things considered.
“While we don’t have any overlays, we are overwhelmed by the support of bettors and the gambling community at what we believe are the best two contests in the world. Our motto at Circa Sports is ‘Sports Betting the Way It Should Be’ and we strongly believe both of these contests embrace those ideals.”
Matty Simo and Toni Law run the biggest Vegas proxy service at footballcontest.com and on Twitter @FootballContest. On Saturday, we were reminiscing about that December luncheon and how unbelievable it’s been that Circa Sports has come so far in such a short time.
“I remember talking with everyone there about how Circa had made such an impressive debut and could give the SuperContest a run for its money with the lower entry fee and no rake,” Simo said. “But the feeling was that Circa wouldn’t catch the Westgate this year but maybe next year after the new building opened.”
When the hotels opened back up in June, it didn’t look like any records would be approached as out-of-staters were slow in coming back to visit Vegas, which didn’t bode well for the contests. In addition to people being reluctant to risk flying to Vegas, there was also a lot of uncertainty about whether or not the 2020 NFL season would even take place (or be cut short). Note: the season must go at least 10 weeks for the SuperContest to be “action” while Circa Sports Million II’s rules require 12 weeks.
By the Fourth of July weekend, Westgate only had 135 entries in the SuperContest and Circa Sports Million II had just 55. That’s right, 55.
Entries picked up over the summer but by the weekend of Aug. 21-22 Circa held its first “Circa Sports Contest Weekend” at the same time as the Westgate held its annual “SuperContest Weekend,” Circa was well ahead of the SuperContest, 535 to 375. Those numbers paled in comparison to 2019 when the SuperContest had 2,191 on the way to its record 3,328 while Circa had 935 on the way to its 1,875.
In talks to other proxies after that weekend, it was looking like Circa would probably get to 1,500 entries or maybe 1,800 if they got a late rush of entries trying to take advantage of the million-plus overlay. No one was predicting what was to come.
“I’m amazed Circa exceeded both their guarantees, “Law said. “I thought there was no chance. Entries were slow-rolling for so long and then really picked up steam these last 10 days.”
As of a week ago Thursday, Sept. 3, Circa Sports Million II was at 1,243 entries, more than doubling the SuperContest as it hit the 600 mark. Even then, it was looking like Circa might flirt with 2,000 entries. On Sept. 6, the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, Circa was up to 1,672 entries and looked possible of reaching perhaps 2,500 while the Survivor was up to 697 and looking for the first time like it wouldn’t have an overlay after all.
Simo and Law said what really made the entries explode was the fact only about one-third of their clients were buying a single entry, and that’s what other proxies said as well. For years, the SuperContest grew one-by-one with people coming to town and buying single entries.
“This year, a lot of people decided they’d prefer to buy two entries at Circa for just $500 more than a single entry in the SuperContest, or to get three,” Simo said. “People aren’t coming out here to just buy one entry anymore.”
The Circa Sports Million II prize structure, which pays out to the Top 50, is top heavy with the guaranteed $1 million to the champion, $300,000 for second, $100,000 for third and down to $14,000 for 10th and then $277,000 being split by those finishing 11th through 50th (with ties).
All entry fees over the 3,000 mark go to Circa’s quarterly prizes, so they’ve increased from their guaranteed $250,000 each quarter to $287,000 each quarter ($187,000 to the top record each quarter, $75,000 for second and $25,000 for third). Circa Sports Million II also has a $100,000 “booby prize” for the worst overall record among those who enter every week.
Over at the Westgate, they were finding the silver lining in their lower entries this year.
“It was a little slow in the early going but it picked up over the last two weeks,” said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race & sports operations at the Westgate and who has overseen the SuperContest’s explosive growth since coming to the then-Las Vegas Hilton in 2004. “Finishing at 1,172 was well beyond our initial thoughts. It’s a different year but we’re all excited to see football again.”
I’ll vouch for what Kornegay says as I talked with him in the SuperBook about two weeks ago after “SuperContest Weekend” and he was predicting they might only get 700 entries.
With the 1,172 entries, the champion will win $435,623.20 and a championship ring. Second place will be worth $117,736 with $58,868 for third and the payoffs drop from there down to an $23,547.20 for 10th and paying down to 100th place, which is set at $588.68 but could be smaller if there’s a tie for the last paying spot. The SuperContest is also paying out $135,000 each quarter (Weeks 1-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-16) with $100,000 to the top record each quarter, $25,000 for second and $10,000 for third.