LAS VEGAS – Registration for this football season’s SuperContest at the Westgate and the College Pick ‘Em at William Hill both opened on Sunday, July 1. The revamped Ultimate Football Challenge at the Golden Nugget has been open for a month.
As the longest tenured journalist and unofficial historian of the Las Vegas football contest scene dating back to my arrival here in 1998 (geez, has it almost been 20 years?), I know I’m going to sound l like an old codger when I say that the vast majority of the entrants – especially those in the SuperContest – have no idea how good they have it.
I can state that because while the Westgate had a record 2,748 SuperContest entries last year, there were only 345 entrants as recently as 2010 and only 745 in 2012. Before the explosion, most of the SuperContest field was made up of local sharps and squares, especially sharps, with a smattering of pros from outside the state and others who learned of the SuperContest mostly through word of mouth. The boom is partly credited to a perfect storm of when ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Chad Millman started writing about it on their blogs (and my first regular ESPN.com articles were weekly SuperContest updates on Millman’s blog in 2011) and later joined by Colin Cowherd and Scott Van Pelt mentioning it on their radio shows, all of which was also fueled by the advent of social media, primarily Twitter, in getting the word out to the masses that out-of-staters could participate in this great Vegas contest by having a proxy submit their weekly plays.
Back in the day (read that in your best “old prospector voice"), none of these contests were taking entries before the first of August. It was a revolutionary idea at the beginning of this decade that the Hilton (former owner of the Westgate) started taking entries over the last weekend in July. Then, in 2012 (after the resort was renamed the LVH), race & sports book director Jay Kornegay took the suggestion of Brady Kannon, frontman of the defending champion Sans Souci team, and hosted the first SuperContest Weekend (yours truly moderated the first panel that included Kannon, Millman and two-time SuperContest champion Fezzik). They unofficially started taking entries earlier that year in trying to promote SC Weekend, and then officially went with July 1 for the start of registration in 2013 and it’s stuck ever since and “has always been the case” in the minds of most players.
Most of the SuperContest rules have remained the same from last year: $1,500 entry fee (8% goes to administrative costs, which was instituted two years ago), limit two per person, pick 5 NFL games each week against the contest spread that is posted on Wednesday afternoon, 1 point per win and 0.5 per push, submission deadline 11 a.m. PT Saturday (or kickoff of Thursday game), and for the second straight year the bonuses are $15,000 for “1st Quarter” leader (Weeks 1-4), “1st Half” leader (Weeks 1-8) and the long-running mini-contest (Weeks 15-17) for those signing up by the early-bird deadline of 4 p.m. on Labor Day.
The major change is the number of spots being paid has been increased to 100. This has been the most heated topic (even moreso than the administrative fee) the past few years during the exponential growth of the field both in the SuperBook and in social media.
“This is not the World Series of Poker,” Kornegay says. “The SuperContest is not part of a tour where players are trying to grind out and cash. It’s supposed to be hard to cash. We’re trying to strike a balance between having a $1 million champion like we had for the first time last year [Briceton Lamar Branch Sr. of Portland, Ore.] and have the last cashers get more than their entry fee back; we don’t want to be paying out hundreds of players a smaller amount.”
Again, most SuperContestants aren’t aware that as recently as 2012, there were only 20 spots that cashed. After the field topped the millennium mark for the first time in 2013 at 1,034, only then was the number of spots raised to 30 for just one season in 2014 and then jumped again to 50 in 2015 and stayed there for three years.
The $5,000 SuperContest Gold (same rules as SuperContest Classic) is back and Kornegay kept that as winner-take-all. Last year, Stag Capital (three former college football teammates) won $470,000 by finishing half a game ahead of professional sports bettor and handicapper Erin Rynning, who has taken the loss in stride as a true pro (disclosure: he’s a friend of mine for whom I proxied).
The 7th annual SuperContest Weekend takes place Aug. 24-25 at the Westgate and VSiN is proud to be part of it for the second straight year. For those who aren’t signing up early, the deadline is the same as the submission deadline for Week 1: 11 a.m. PT on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Here’s the format for the other two major handicapping contests here in Vegas. We’ll add more as they get announced:
Ultimate Football Challenge (Golden Nugget)
The many changes to the Nugget’s contest were detailed by my VSiN colleague Matt Youmans last month, but let’s take a look at the main ones:
The entry fee was lowered from $2,000 to $1,000 with two allowed per person.
Previously, Nugget players made 7 picks from the full slate of college and pro football games, including sides and totals. This year, the totals were dropped.
The contest also used to have a 2 p.m. PT Friday submission deadline as it was tied to The Las Vegas Sportsline radio show here in town and had a head-to-head playoff format after a varying number of qualifying weeks. Now, the playoff format has been dropped, so it’s closer to the SuperContest format as it now runs for all 17 weeks of the NFL season (but differentiates itself as it includes NCAA sides) and the weekly submission deadline has been moved back to 10 p.m. PT Fridays.
Note: the registration deadline is earlier than most contests at 10 p.m. PT on Tuesday, Sept. 4, so don't be "that guy" who moseys on downtown that Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and expect to enter just because you're there before the Week 1 picks are due.
The top 20 will be paid. Finishers 11th through 20th will received $1,000 apiece and then the champion will win 40% of the remaining prize pool, 20% for 2nd, 10% for 3rd and so on down to 2% for 8th through 10th.
One regular contestant who will probably be sad to see the old format go is two-time defending champion Mucked Nuts (Chris Kozak from Chicago).
There were 95 entrants in the Nugget contest last year and is expected to grow, though I think that’ll have less to do with the change in format and more due to the overall increase of interest in sports betting in general as well as the lowering of the entry fee.
College Pick ‘Em (William Hill)
This is the biggest contest with just college football games against the spread (though the champion’s prize was similar last year with the Last Man Standing survivor-style contest at Station Casinos, which we’re hoping to add officially to this list in the coming weeks).
Entries cost $500 with a limit of four entries per person and players make seven plays each week against the contest spread (all half-point lines, so no pushes in this format) from a list of 25 games chosen by William Hill. The contest runs for just 10 weeks as it concludes the weekend of Nov. 10.
There’s a $75,000 guaranteed prize pool with the champion winning 50% (which would be $37,500 though that was easily exceeded last year by the $57,750 won by local real estate expert Teddy Federwitz of Henderson). There’s also an aggregate bonus of $25,000 if the champion wins 49 games (70%).
The contest doesn’t start at the beginning of the college football season but the opening weekend of the NFL, primarily the games of Saturday, Sept. 8. Entry deadline is 8 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8. The weekly submission deadline is the scheduled kickoff of the first game you use and can be played until there are 7 games still left on the card.
Last Man Standing (Station Casinos)
The last of the big season-long contests here in Vegas – the Last Man Standing, pro and college elimination football contests, hosted by Station Casinos – opened for registration on Tuesday, Aug. 8.
Even though the payoffs are big (guaranteed at least $75,000 for the pro champion and minimum $40,000 to the college champ, plus an added bonus of $135,000 if someone were able to win both), the entry fee is not as it’s just $25 per entry and if you buy four you get one free, so $100 for five entries.
Players make one pick against the spread each week against the posted contest spreads (locked in on Wednesdays) and have to submit before that game’s scheduled kickoff that weekend. Each entry is treated separately and you keep playing as long as you keep winning; one loss and that entry is eliminated; the entire prize pool goes to the last man (or woman) standing.
Note: unlike the other contests above, this one does not allow proxies as the individual player must use their Boarding Pass player’s card to put in picks and could be asked for matching ID, so this is aimed at Las Vegas locals (unless out-of-staters are able to come back every week).
The deadline for signing up for the college contest is 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8 (or earlier if the last game on that first week’s contest sheet is scheduled to kick off earlier as that’s the deadline for picks on the opening weekend) with the pro deadline at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 9 (an hour before the main Week 1 schedule kicks off).
While Station Casinos is the presenting casino company with many locations around the Las Vegas valley, registration and weekly entries are also allowed at any of its affiliated casinos, including Fiesta Rancho and Fiesta Henderson; Wildfire Gaming properties such as Wildfire Sunset, Wildfire Rancho, Wildfire Casino & Lanes, and Wildfire Boulder; Barley’s in Henderson; Wild Wild West on Tropicana; and the downtown El Cortez.