Football betting contests booming

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It seems Tom Brady is never out of the news for long, and he’ll be back on the field soon. The countdown to the NFL season opener will hit 77 days Thursday. Brady and the Buccaneers will raise their Super Bowl championship banner before hosting the Cowboys on Sept. 9.

Are you ready for some football? The offseason is shrinking, but there’s still plenty of time to get ready for the biggest year for football contests we have ever seen. The amount of money up for grabs in various contests is off the charts, so plan ahead and start sharpening your pencil and your handicapping skills.

Starting with the most prestigious contests staged by Circa Sports, DraftKings and the Westgate SuperBook, more than $15 million guaranteed will be on the line. The bottom line: It’s a great time to be alive as a football bettor.

“We had somewhat of a monopoly for the longest time,” SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “Now we have a competitive world.”

From the inception of the SuperContest in 1989, when the Westgate was known as the Las Vegas Hilton, that contest was essentially the only game in town for three decades. Kornegay is now fighting to keep the SuperContest relevant amid a competition boom created by new, bigger-money NFL contests at Circa and DraftKings.

Circa owner Derek Stevens, the newest driving force in the contest world, is aggressive and innovative. He recently announced a $4 million guaranteed prize pool, including $1 million to the champion, in the Circa Sports Million III. Stevens is also guaranteeing a prize pool of $6 million in the Circa Survivor contest.

The DraftKings Pro Football Pick-’Em and Survivor contests guarantee a combined $5 million in two prize pools, and the ceiling will be raised in future years with DraftKings expanding to more states.

“We thought we could create the biggest contests in the world, and we’re on our way to that,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said.

With additional super-sized contests posing a major threat to the popularity of the SuperContest, Kornegay has tweaked the format to make it more appealing to the public. The moral of the story is competition in the market is positive for the consumer.

The Westgate has eliminated the 8% rake it took the last few years, and 100% of entry fees are now in the prize pool. Kornegay also reduced the SuperContest buy-in from $1,500 to $1,000, matching the entry fee and payout structures in the Circa contests.

Another major SuperContest change is the addition of in-season contests, from four last year to nine this year. There will be six three-week contests (paying out $75,000 for first place, $25,000 for second and $5,000 for third) and three six-week contests (paying out $100,000 for first, $50,000 for second, $10,000 for third, $5,000 for fourth and $2,500 for fifth) within the NFL’s new 18-week schedule.

 

“Someone said we’re making these changes because of what our competition is doing, and I said, ‘That’s 100% correct,’ ” Kornegay said. “We did it because of the competition, and we’re not denying that whatsoever. In order to compete, you have to make some changes.

“The shorter contests give people a lot of hope, and that’s one reason we tried to focus on the in-season prizes. We’re hoping that makes our contest more attractive.”

For those who might be unfamiliar with the ways of the contest world, the SuperContest, Circa Sports Million III and DraftKings Pro Football Pick-’Em contests require entrants to pick five games a week against the spread. (VSiN senior reporter Dave Tuley presents a detailed rules breakdown for each contest in this issue.)

 

The SuperContest experienced huge gains in popularity after reaching 517 entries in 2010 and peaking at 3,328 entries in 2019. Kornegay watched the entry total drop to 1,172 in 2020 basically for three reasons — the Circa contests offered more guaranteed prize money, the Westgate rake discouraged many sophisticated players, and the COVID-19 pandemic threw an element of uncertainty into the football season.

Circa entries surged last year to 3,148 in the classic contest and 1,380 for the Survivor. Those numbers will rise this year with Stevens stepping up the guaranteed money.

The DraftKings Pro Football Millionaire Pick-’Em has a $1,500 entry fee, with $4 million guaranteed in prizes and $1 million to the winner. The DraftKings contests are licensed in eight states — New Jersey, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia — up from three last year.

DraftKings runs sportsbook operations in 14 states, still excluding Nevada, and the potential for expansion is exciting to Avello.

 

“Last year we had 694 (entrants) for the whole year, and here it is June and we already have over 800,” Avello said. “We expanded the number of states, so that’s certainly going to help. Not all states have bought in yet, but eventually they will.”

In Nevada, the contest options are not limited to Circa and Westgate. Smaller contests will be available at the Golden Nugget, Station Casinos and William Hill books, and Jimmy Vaccaro might be plotting something new at South Point.

The money up for grabs is staggering, so make a bankroll game plan. It would be wise to get in the game.

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