A contestant using the alias Rleejr86 won the guaranteed $1 million first-place prize in the DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship held Friday through Sunday in New Jersey, but the story that will be remembered is of third-place finisher Opti5624 (alias of professional gambler Rufus Peabody).
The SNBC drew 260 entrants who either won their way into the tournament or put up the $10,000 entry, with $5,000 going to the prize pool (which was guaranteed at $2.5 million, so there was a huge overlay, which drew a lot of pro bettors). The $5,000 was used as a live bankroll on the DK sports-betting app in New Jersey, with the prize money going to the top 25 finishers and players keeping all real-life earnings.
Rleejr86 (Randy Lee, 32, of New Jersey) finished with a bankroll of $101,472.02 with the winning wager coming on the Philadelphia Eagles plus-8.5 as they covered in their 20-14 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional playoffs on Sunday. Daniel Steinberg, using the alias nomoreiloveyous, earned second-place money of $350,000 for his final bankroll of $88,206.07 as he had a final bet of $35,000 on the Eagles 8.5. (Note: moneylinemikey would have overtaken them all if the Eagles had won outright as he had the Eagles plus-275 on the money line for $33,634 and would have finished with more than $160,000).
And then there’s Peabody.
His Opti5624 entry was being talked about all day Sunday (in New Jersey as well as on social media) as he had gone all-in with his $42,875.30 on the New England Patriots -3.5 over the San Diego Chargers. The Patriots jumped out to an early lead and coasted to a 41-28 victory, so a lot of tournament participants and followers knew Opti5624 was going to take over the lead with $81,891.82 heading into the Eagles-Saints game. Another note about the SBNC at this point: contestants were able to bet on any sport on the DK app on Friday and Saturday, but Sunday’s action was limited to only the two NFL playoff games. And while in-game wagers were allowed on the Chargers-Patriots game, all bets on the Eagles-Saints game had to be made before kickoff.
At halftime of the Patriots’ game, Peabody posted on Twitter @RufusPeabody that “If Pats cover (not counting anything yet), it will be a very stressful 20 minutes before the second game kicks off. Big decisions to make.” However, the game ran late, narrowing the window before the scheduled 4:40 p.m. ET kickoff for Eagles-Saints. The Chargers scored a late touchdown to make the final score 41-28, and the game ended at 4:37 p.m. PT (according to my own Tweet @ViewFromVegas, which I sent as the final gun sounded).
Peabody said he was constantly refreshing his screen to see when his account would be credited with his bankroll so he could check the leaderboard to see what he would need to do with his final wagers. But he said the Eagles-Saints game kicked off before he could make any wagers.
“Since I never saw exactly what position I was in, I never decided exactly what I was going to do,” he said, adding that he was also trying to figure out if his competitors were going to be able to get in multiple bets and what final score he was shooting for. “I really liked the Under, so I was considering maybe parlaying that with a bet on Saints, but not sure if I would have used the money line or an alternate point spread [such as -3.5 instead of the game line of -8.5] and ran out of time.”
Peabody said he was pretty sure that most of the contestants chasing him would use the Eagles on the money line and “if they won outright, I’d be toast,” but he said he would have felt comfortable with the Saints and the Under for the $1 million prize. Instead, he had to sit out and wait for other people’s plays to determine his fate. He finished third with his bankroll of $81,891.83 to collect third-place money of $250,000 after being passed by rleejr86 and nomoreiloveyous.
Peabody was alternatingly pissed off and philosophical about what happened.
“I’m lucky to be doing what I do when so many people are out there struggling, and I was lucky to be in the position to even get third place,” he said, “but I was in position to win $1 million and would have liked to take my shot.
“To be quite honest, I had this anxious energy all built up about what I was going to do and then I got shut out and there was nothing I could do. It put things in perspective in a way.”
Anyone who gambles regularly knows what it’s like to get shut out while waiting for one game (or horse race) to end and be graded before being able to bet again, so Peabody was starting to write it off as “one of those things.”
However, he started to hear from other competitors.
“I wasn’t at the watch party [hosted by DraftKings in Jersey City, though players could make their plays anywhere within the state], but I heard that some players were able to get their plays graded earlier by going to the help desk,” he said. “That’s not right. All plays should have been graded at the same time but it appears some were manually graded and it wasn’t a level playing field.
“I understand that DraftKings is in an unfortunate situation where they can’t make everyone happy, but I ended up being one of those that got screwed over.”
Peabody said he will understandably look into what legal recourse is possible but didn’t specify if it would be with the courts or New Jersey’s gaming commission.
James Chisholm, director of public affairs for DraftKings, released the following statement after the tournament: “The 1st-ever Sports Betting National Championship was an incredibly thrilling event. We recognize that in the rules the scheduled end of betting coincided very closely to the finish of the of Patriots-Chargers game. While we must follow our contest rules, we sincerely apologize for the experience several customers had where their bets were not graded in time to allow wagering on the Saints-Eagles game. We will learn from this experience and improve upon the rules and experience for future events.”
Here's a link to the final leaderboard with all contestants' final bankrolls and prize money: https://sportsbook.draftkings.com/sbnc/leaderboard (all players' wagers can be viewed by clicking the "Export All Bets to CSV" link in the lower-left corner).