The NFL continues to move forward with its offseason during the coronavirus pandemic, including free-agent signings and preparing for this week’s draft, with the hope of still having its regular season start on time in the fall.
But how does this all impact Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and Circa Sports, which run the biggest NFL handicapping contests?
The Westgate hosts its famous SuperContest ($1,500 entry fee and which drew a record 3,328 entries last year and a record $1,469,644.80 first-place prize) as well as a $5,000 winner-take-all version called SuperContest Gold and a midseason $500 buy-in contest called the SuperContest Reboot.
Derek Stevens, owner of the Golden Gate and D casinos in downtown Las Vegas, launched his own sports betting operation, Circa Sports, last June 1 and had a very successful debut with 1,875 entries at $1,000 apiece. They opened Circa Sports Million II on March 6 this year with many predicting around 2,500 entries and perhaps more as Stevens was again guaranteeing a $1 million first-place prize as well as increasing the payouts from Top 10 to Top 50 and increasing the popular “Quarter” prizes to $250,000 apiece ($150,000 for the top record each quarter, $75,000 for second and $25,000 for third). In addition, Stevens launched a $1 million guarantee for the inaugural Circa Survivor (pick one winner each week of the NFL season, can’t pick same team twice).
So, in the increasingly competitive market, both had already started taking entries this year with the hopes of picking up a lot from the annual March Madness crowds, but then Nevada Gov. George Sisolak ordered the shuttering of all the state’s casinos to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and that put a halt to contest registrations since they must be done in person at the brick-and-mortar casinos in Nevada.
Everyone is hoping that the casinos re-open in the not-so-distant future and we have our regular rush of contest signups in late August/early September, which is when the vast majority of football contest registrations have historically taken place anyway.
“It doesn’t make sense to make changes until we know what’s going to happen with this whole unprecedented situation,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “First of all, we have to wait until we can open for business and then we have to see what the NFL is going to do with its season.”
“No general decisions have been made or contingency plans put in place,” said Jeffrey Benson, sportsbook operations manager at Circa. “I think with sports that haven’t started like NFL and college football, it’s too far off to speculate. At the end of the day we are respectful to the COVID-19 situation that is going on and will take as much information into account as possible when making contest-related decisions and how those decision will affect our players.”
The issues are complicated by the rules that the two companies finalized before taking any entries:
SuperContest Rule No. 4: Entry fee will begin being accepted for the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest at 9:00 AM on Monday, January 13, 2020, and conclude at 3:00 PM Saturday, September 12,2020.
Circa Rule No. 5: Payment of entry fees for this Contest, along with the registration form, will be accepted at the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino and the D Las Vegas beginning at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2020, and will no longer be accepted after 2:00 PM on Saturday, September 12, 2020.
That would still work if the NFL season starts on time, but what if a full season is not played? The Westgate and Circa have different rules on how long the season must last for the contest to be ruled official.
Westgate Rule No. 17: The professional football regular season must consist of at least ten (10) weeks for the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest to be considered valid. If the regular season is shortened to less than ten (10) weeks, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook may cancel the contest and all entry fees will be refunded. This does not apply to the 1st and 2nd Quarter Bonuses.
Circa Rule No. 15: The Contest will be considered official after week 12 of the professional football season. If the professional football season does not run at least twelve (12) weeks, all Contest entry fees will be refunded. If the professional football season is not completed as scheduled, but lasts twelve (12) weeks or more, the point leader at the time the season is canceled will be declared the winner. This Rule in no way affects the MVP bonus payouts. If material technical difficulties or other Acts of God circumstances prevent the Contest from being completed after week 12, the Contest will still be action and prizes will be awarded based on current point totals at the time of cancellation.
Of course, you can tell by reading those that they were written on the most likely scenario of the season starting on time and being cut short for some reason (player strike/owner lockout, World War III, etc.). If the start of the season were to be delayed, both Westgate and Circa would have to change the rules regarding the registration deadline. Fortunately for both, they (or their lawyers) had the foresight to include what amounts to an umbrella escape clause in their rules that they can change the rules if necessary.
Westgate Rule No. 29: Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino reserves the right to modify or cancel this contest at any time for any reason, subject to any applicable regulatory approval provided that such modifications shall not, as the date of such modification, materially alter or change any participant’s prize already awarded.
Circa Rule No. 25: This Contest’s Rules can be found by visiting circasports.com/million as of March 6. By registering for the Contest, all contestants agree to any updates to these Rules. All updated versions of these Rules will be available at the above web address as soon as they become active. Contestants acknowledge that they will check the above web address regularly for updated versions of these Rules.
“From the beginning of this crisis, the main priority has been the health and safety of our staff and our guests,” Kornegay said. “We look forward to getting back to work and welcoming back our customers.”
“We are amenable to working with our guests who want to sign up for our contest(s) if the NFL season is pushed back,” Benson said. “I think the entire nation is in a state of flux until the first major sports league comes back and we’ll just have to see how things play out.
“For us [Circa Sports], ultimately, we are waiting for more clarity. Once we get a better timeline for how things are going to play out regarding OTAs, preseason, regular season, etc., we can begin discussion on any potential rules that need to be reworded to guarantee that our players who participate in the contest(s) have the best experience possible.”
Last week, Kornegay and the SuperBook announced that they were expanding to the state of Colorado with an agreement to run the sports book operations (including mobile wagering) at the The Lodge Casino in Black Hawk, 50 miles outside of Denver. Kornegay told VSiN that he intends to run a SuperContest in Colorado this season (current laws don’t make it possible to combine the contests across state lines) but details can’t be finalized until they actually start operating. Colorado is supposed to start taking legal sports bets as of May 1, but of course that’s contingent on the casinos being allowed to reopen there as well.
But that might not be all the added competition this season. Last year, the Westgate and Circa lucked out when there were no major football handicapping contests run in the other states where sports betting had become legal since the Supreme Court lifted the national ban in May 2018. I’m hearing that at least one state back East will have an NFL handicapping contest similar to the Westgate and Circa offerings.
Similar to everything else discussed in this article, we’ll have to see what happens in the coming months. In the meantime, check the rules pages on the Westgate and Circa websites when it looks like the casinos are going to be allowed to re-open – and, of course, continue to follow our coverage here at VSiN.com.