NFL contest overlays add free money to prize pools

By Adam Burke  ( 

September 7, 2021 07:33 PM

Free money is not something that casinos or sportsbooks are accustomed to handing out. Imagine sitting down at a blackjack table and a few hands into your session, the dealer puts an extra $100 chip from the tray on top of your bet. You’d be flabbergasted. Appreciative as well, but certainly confused. That simply isn’t the way that it typically works.

Every now and then, gamblers run into some good situations. A blackjack shoe might have a strong count. A roulette wheel might have the ball landing in the same area repeatedly. A betting line may be severely mispriced when you just happen to be there to get it.

These things happen. They’ll make you some money. They won’t make you thousands or millions of dollars, though.

Or can they?

The topic of overlays will be coming up a lot this week with the NFL contests at Circa Sports. Perhaps the biggest example in recent memory of an overlay is set to take place in the second annual Circa Survivor.

The guaranteed prize pool for the Circa Survivor is $6 million. By Tuesday evening, the contest had attracted 2,605 entrants at $1,000 each. The prize pool based on entry fees is nowhere near the $6 million guarantee. As a result, this creates an overlay and a very advantageous situation for contestants.

The deadline to sign up is 2 p.m. PT on Saturday, Sept. 11, so the overlay will shrink, but even with six entries allowed per contestant, there will still be more money in the prize pool than there are entry fees. At time of publish, the overlay was well over $3 million. Even with the expectation of a late rush of entries, an overlay of $2 million or more is very possible.

For easy math, let’s say that 3,000 entrants wind up in the Circa Survivor with a guaranteed prize pool of $6 million. Your entry fee is $1,000, so that guarantee is based on the expectation of 6,000 entrants to make the $6 million prize pool. If only half of that number signs up, your entry fee is basically worth $2,000, but you are still only paying $1,000 to enter.

If there are 4,000 entrants in the contest, your entry fee is essentially worth $1,500. With an overlay, think of it as free money being added to the pot. Those are not entrants that you have to beat out to make money. It is money simply added to the potential winnings because of the guarantee.

That brings us to the Circa Million III. The 2021 version has a $4 million guaranteed prize pool. Any number of entrants below 4,000 will not reach the $4 million mark in entry fees. That is because each entry costs $1,000 and there is no rake, so all of the buy-in goes into the prize pool. If there aren’t enough buy-ins to make up the guarantee, there is an overlay.

As of Tuesday evening, there were just under 3,100 entrants in the contest for an overlay just shy of $900,000.

The benefits of an overlay are impossible to ignore. In essence, your entry fee creates more equity. Instead of having to beat 4,000 or more players, maybe you only have to beat 3,200. The prize amounts are fixed for the contest, but are based on the $4 million guarantee, not the actual number of entrants. That adds significant value to your entry.

Figuring out the exact edge is a challenge because each individual has a different chance of winning based on his or her betting ability and number of entries. It wouldn’t be as cut-and-dry as saying that somebody with six entries out of 3,000 has a 0.2% chance of winning. Your chances of making the money theoretically increase with fewer contestants, but are subject to your skill level and a whole lot of luck and variance.

The biggest thing to remember about an overlay is that it increases the equity of your entry fee with free money added to the pot. You don’t get these chances in the gambling world often, so when they come along, it is in your best interest to try and take advantage.

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