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Football contests offer many options

tuley

Nevada-based football handicapping contests have a long, storied history with entrants flying in from all over the U.S. and the world. They’re going to be bigger and better in this post-pandemic world — plus we’re seeing expansion in other states where sports betting has been legalized.

The grandfather of football contests was the Castaways Challenge in the early 1980s in Las Vegas. Castaways was a small gaming motel on the Strip that was razed to make way for the Mirage. The Las Vegas Hilton picked up the ball in 1989 with its SuperContest and was king of the hill for 30 years. In the early years, the number of entries for the $1,500 contest was measured in hundreds and played mostly by locals, professional handicappers and a smattering of others around the country who used local proxies to put in picks. After having 505 entries in 2005, the SuperContest dropped back into the 300s during the recession before bouncing back to 517 in 2010. With the advent of social media, word spread and entries exploded past the 1,000 mark for the first time in 2013 and set records every year until peaking at 3,328 in 2019.

But a new challenger was lurking.

“When we started Circa Sports, we wanted to build the biggest and best football contest,” Circa Sports owner Derek Stevens told VSiN in 2019 when announcing the first Circa Sports Million. “We’re guaranteeing our prize pools and million-dollar first-place prize to offer an overlay and no rake.”

The inaugural Circa Sports Million was a huge success, as 1,875 paid the $1,000 entry fee. That blew away the 1,500 entries needed to meet the $1.5 million guarantee. The additional $375,000 was added to the already generous quarter prizes.

In February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Stevens announced he would guarantee $3 million in prizes for Circa Sports Million II and another $1 million for the first Circa Survivor. Entries started slowly for both contests before Nevada closed brick-and-mortar casinos from mid-March through early June, but then both exceeded their guarantees — and expectations, since no one was sure we’d have a complete NFL season — with 3,148 entering Circa Sports Million II and 1,380 entering Circa Survivor.

The Circa Sports Million II entries were the second highest ever for a Las Vegas football contest, behind the 3,328 in the 2019 SuperContest. The Westgate, after three decades of defending its title against all challengers, saw a drop in 2020 to just 1,172 entries due to players gravitating to the Circa with the guaranteed prize pools, lower entry fee and no rake.

“Competition is the American way, and it’s good for everyone,” said Westgate vice president Jay Kornegay, who has overseen the SuperContest since taking over at the then-Las Vegas Hilton in 2004. “We upgraded a few things surrounding the SuperContest this year. The entry fee was changed to $1,000 (from the traditional $1,500), it’s 100% payback and we added five more in-season contests for a total of nine.”

The Westgate also has a high-end version called SuperContest Gold, which drew 72 entrants at $5,000 apiece in 2020 after 117 in 2019.

This season also features the return of the Ultimate Football Challenge at the Golden Nugget, which wasn’t run in 2020 because of the uncertainty of a full football season taking place. The contest, which also has a $1,000 entry fee, includes college football as contestants make seven picks a week against the contest spreads.

William Hill, which was first licensed in the Silver State when the U.S. Supreme Court ended Nevada’s sports betting monopoly in 2018, is expected to renew its College Pick-’Em contest but is still finalizing details.

But that’s not the case with DraftKings, which has announced its Pro Football Millionaire Pick-’Em. It will have a $1,500 entry fee, $4 million guaranteed prize pool and $1 million guaranteed first-place prize along with Pro Football Survivor, with a $333 entry fee and guaranteed $1 million prize. Unlike the Nevada contests, in which contestants must show up at brick-and-mortar casinos and put in plays every week in person or designate local proxies, DraftKings’ contests are held completely online in the eight states were the organization is licensed: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Colorado, Tennessee, Michigan and Virginia. DraftKings actually held its contests last year, but they were available in just New Jersey, New Hampshire and West Virginia at the time.

John Avello had a long career in Las Vegas as race and sportsbook director at Bally’s and then Wynn Las Vegas before taking over as the head of DraftKings sportsbook in 2018.

“I ran several football contests at my properties and saw what the other casinos like Westgate and Circa did and wanted to bring those to other states once we were able to get through the regulations,” Avello said. “Being in multiple states gave us a leg up on the competition.”

Players in Las Vegas contests have always wondered if and when they could play these kinds of contests — and the time is now. It will be interesting to see if this hurts the number of entries in Las Vegas, but the feeling here is that the expansion of legalized gambling will continue to drive business to Nevada like it always has.

A rising tide raises all ships.

When Atlantic City first had legalized gambling in 1979, many predicted no one would travel all the way to Nevada from the East Coast, but it sparked a boom in Las Vegas. The same thing happened with the expansion of tribal casinos across the country in the 1980s and ’90s as well as Nevada’s sports betting industry continuing to thrive when offshore sports betting arrived in the late ’90s.

The more the merrier, and sports bettors and contest players benefit from more options.

Circa Sports Million III and Circa Survivor

Circa Sports Million III has a $1,000 entry fee, with a maximum of three entries per person.

Pick five games a week against the Circa contest spread in NFL Weeks 1-18.

$4 million guaranteed prize pool and $1 million guaranteed to the champion.

Top 50 paid.

“Booby prize” of $100,000 for worst record among those who play all 18 weeks.

Quarter prizes (Weeks 1-4, 5-9, 10-13, 14-18) are $150,000 for first place, $50,000 for second place, $25,000 for third place and $25,000 for last place.

Picks must be made in Nevada at Circa sportsbook counters, on kiosk or on Circa mobile app; proxies allowed.

Circa Survivor has a $1,000 entry fee, with a maximum of six entries.

Pick one NFL winner straight up per week (ties lose), and can’t use the same team more than once.

NFL Weeks 1-18, plus added weeks of “Thanksgiving” and “Christmas Day” (including preceding Thursday game) for 20 totals “weeks.”

Guaranteed $6 million prize pool.

$1 million bonus split by all who go 20-0 (must also use Buccaneers or Chiefs in Week 18 to be eligible for bonus).

Picks must be made in Nevada at Circa sportsbook counters, on kiosk or on Circa mobile app; proxies allowed.

Westgate SuperContest and SuperContest Gold

SuperContest has a $1,000 entry fee, with a maximum of three entries per person.

Pick five games a week against the Westgate contest spread in NFL Weeks 1-18.

Top 30 paid.

Nine “in-season” contests with three six-week contests (Weeks 1-6, 7-12, 13-18) with payouts of $100,000 for first, $50,000 for second, $10,000 for third, $5,000 for fourth and $2,500 for fifth, plus six three-week contests with payouts of $75,000 for first, $25,000 for second and $5,000 for third.

Picks must be made in Nevada at Circa sportsbook counters, on kiosk or on Circa mobile app; proxies allowed.

SuperContest Gold has a $5,000 entry fee.

Pick five games a week against the Westgate contest spread in NFL Weeks 1-18.

Winner take all, or split in case of tie.

Picks must be made in Nevada at Westgate Las Vegas kiosks or on Westgate mobile app; proxies allowed.

DraftKings Pro Football Pick-’Em and Pro Football Survivor

Pick-’Em has a $1,500 entry fee, with a maximum of three entries per person.

Guaranteed $4 million prize pool and $1 million first-place prize.

Pick five games a week against the DraftKings spread in Weeks 1-17 (each entry also gets one bye week).

Top 135 paid.

$100 free bet for each 5-0 week.

Online only in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia; no proxy needed.

Survivor has a $333 entry fee, with a maximum of three.

Pick one NFL winner straight up per week (ties lose), and can’t use the same team more than once.

Guaranteed $1 million prize, split equally if more than one contestant lasts through the regular season.

Online only in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia; no proxy needed.

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