As we settle into the dog days of summer, it’s a good time to get an update on the high-end football contests being held this fall in Las Vegas.
After all, this has traditionally been the week leading up to the July 1 start of registrations for the granddaddy of ‘em all, the SuperContest at the Westgate (formerly Hilton and the LVH) SuperBook, but it fast-tracked the start of taking entries to March 1 this year to catch the March Madness crowd and was followed closely by the Golden Nugget’s Ultimate Football Challenge, which opened March 8, and the Circa Sports Million came on board when Circa Sports opened for business on June 1 at the Golden Gate (and has since added a second location at The D Las Vegas).
The SuperContest has been the gold standard for football contests in Las Vegas for 30 years. While the number of entries and prize money has exploded this decade from 345 entries in 2010 and Richard Stand’s first-place prize of $207,000 to 3,123 entries last year and Eric Kahane’s prize of $1,422,214.20, the format has stayed virtually the same with entrants paying $1,500 and making 5 NFL picks a week against the contest spread. The Westgate did add SuperContest Gold two years ago as a competitor to itself with a $5,000 entry fee and winner-take-all prize (last year it was my friend, George King, taking the $640,000 prize). Westgate race & sports director John Murray said Tuesday that there were 593 entrants in the SuperContest Classic and 15 in the Gold. Since there is no historical comparisons as entries haven’t ever been taken before July 1, this has to be considered gravy; Murray said it’s a little above what they expected at this point. Classic has a streak of nine years with more entries than the year before and its official contest rules has a payout chart based on 3,500 entries (traditionally, those charts have been a conservative estimate); in fact, Westgate VP Jay Kornegay has said on VSiN that they could reach 4,000.
Maybe I’ll write a book one day (or a very long column) about all the challengers to the SuperContest’s throne from the $1,000 Challenge at Station Casinos to the $2,500 South Point contest to the $5,000 earlier Golden Nugget contest (when it was run by Chris Andrews and Nick Bogdanovich) to the $100,000 contest at the M that drew seven contestants and the subsequent $10,000 contest at the M that drew 17. (There, I don’t have to write that column now!) But, for now, the main competitors are the Golden Nugget and Circa.
The main differences in the Golden Nugget contest (this is where the accompanying chart comes in) is the $1,000 entry fee and contestants make 7 plays per week and can include college football picks (sides only in NFL & NCAA after they dropped totals last year). Rich Velez won last year’s $119,000 firstplace prize. The Ultimate Football Challenge grew from 95 in 2017 (when the entry fee was $2,000) to 308 last year, so Nugget executive sports book director Tony Miller has said he’s hoping for an increase to 500 this year. On Tuesday, Miller said they were at 49 entries (again, they hadn’t ever opened before July either, so at least they’re ahead of last year’s pace).
The biggest change in the contest landscape is obviously the Circa Sports Million. Derek Stevens, the owner of The D and the Golden Gate in downtown Las Vegas, launched his own sportsbook company on June 1 and announced its contest with a guaranteed purse of $1.5 million and $1 million to the champion (plus a jacket like the Masters, except it’s blue). This also costs $1,000 per entry, so they need an ambitious 1,500 entries to “make their nut.” However, Stevens and Circa VP Mike Palm, Stevens’ right-hand man with the left-hand compliments, have both said they’re comfortable with having an overlay for their first-year customers if entries fall short. If they surpass 1,500, any extra purse money will be added onto the $50,000 “Quarter MVP” prizes that are basically monthly prizes for the top records in September (NFL Weeks 1-4), October (Weeks 5-8), November (Weeks 9-12) and December (Weeks 13-17). As of Tuesday, Circa sports book director Matt Metcalf said they had 94 entries.
The SuperContest also continues its $15,000 “1st Quarter Bonus” for the leader(s) after NFL Week 4 and $15,000 “Halftime Bonus” for the leader(s) after Week 8 that were added two years ago. In addition, the Westgate has its long-running $15,000 “Early Bird Sign-up Bonus” mini-contest in Weeks 15-17 for all contestants registering by the 4 p.m. PT Labor Day (Sept. 2 this year) early-bird deadline.
Proxies for out-of-state contestants (or for those who don’t want to put in their own entries) are allowed for all of these contests. Circa launched with the ability for players to submit their weekly picks on their mobile app, though you must be within Nevada’s borders. Players can still go to the counter or use kiosks for paper receipts. Westgate is also allowing weekly mobile picks, but requiring them to be in by 11 p.m. PT Fridays with contestants responsible to have plays put in at the SuperBook’s self-service machines in person or by proxy by the regular 11 a.m. PT Saturday deadline.
Have fun deciding which contest(s) to enter and making your arrangements to beat the deadlines. Why not do all three like yours truly if it fits your budget (all four if you can afford the $5,000 Gold)? I love covering these contests, but also taking my shot at fame and fortune. They all have their distinct advantages. Good luck in the coming season.