Week 9 College Football Picks: LSU +15 Against No. 1-Ranked Alabama, And More

Each week we’ll be providing our top college football picks.

Also check out our NFL “Lookahead Lines” story, finding value (or not) by comparing earlier lines, and identifying recency bias.

This week we have six plays, including a rebound spot for Oregon and LSU getting over two touchdowns at home versus Alabama.

Week 9 College Football Picks: LSU +15 Over Alabama, Ducks -10 Over UCLA & More

cfb picks week 10 ucla oregon
RB Joshua Kelley

Oregon -10 over UCLA

Oregon is my favorite play of the season so far, assuming quarterback Justin Herbert plays. Herbert suffered a concussion in last week’s loss to Arizona but returned to practice Wednesday.

Nothing went right for the Ducks in Tucson. It was an awful spot for them coming off two emotional games against Washington and Washington State. I looked hard at fading the Ducks last week but just couldn’t trust Arizona.

While last week was a terrible spot for Oregon, this week is the exact opposite. Chip Kelly returns to Eugene where he was the head coach for four years and led the Ducks to the National Championship Game. His UCLA Bruins are coming off a 31-point loss to Utah and have dropped 10 of their last 11 conference games on the road by an average of 16 points.

Oregon has Utah on deck but because they got hammered by Arizona, the Ducks can’t afford to look past the overmatched Bruins. Nothing went right for Oregon against Arizona. It’s one of those games you just throw away because Oregon simply didn’t show up. Expect them to show up Saturday with Kelly in town.

Oregon is 4-1 at home this season. The Ducks’ only loss was to Stanford when they fumbled running out the clock. I expect Oregon to roll at home on Saturday. This line should be up to two touchdowns by kickoff. It opened Oregon -13 then dropped to 7.5 when  Herbert was questionable Tuesday. It’s back on the rise, so if you like the Ducks, grab them as soon as possible.

‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye

The post ‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye appeared first on SportsHandle.

Every week, Sports Handle will look at NFL lines, specifically “Lookahead Lines,” to see how they’re moving and why. Lookahead lines are those posted one week prior to a game or even before the season has begun, as CG Technology does.

By comparing changes between current lines and the numbers hung days earlier, we can get a sense of where recency bias or overreactions are seeping in.

We’ll highlight the significant shifts, look for value and suggest when it’s a good idea to get behind or stay away from certain teams. Here’s a look at the Week NFL 5 line moves and what it means to bettors. (Note: odds indicated based on current numbers at several Las Vegas sportsbooks.)

NFL Week 6 Lookahead and Current Line Moves Show Value on Miami Hosting Chicago; Falcons-Bucs Line Contracts As Atlanta Circles Drain; Faith In Raiders Bottoming Out

nfl week 6 picks bears dolphins lookahead lines

Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins (+3 or especially +3.5)

The Bears come into Week 6 at 3-1 and atop the NFC North standings. Chicago was once 100/1 to win the Super Bowl this summer and are now down to 25/1 at the SuperBook.

Last week the SuperBook had the Dolphins -1. That line was similar to the one CG Technology released in May at Miami -1.5. However, the line has gone up the Bears -3 and Chicago didn’t even play last week.

While people’s perception of the Bears has changed since the season started, the Dolphins are going in the opposite direction. After starting the year 3-0, Miami has lost its last two games to the Patriots and Bengals by at least 10 points. One thing to keep in mind is the Bears have only played one road game this year, a 16-14 win over the Cardinals. The Dolphins beat the Titans 27-20 and the Raiders 28-20 in their two home games.

Miami is coming off a face-melting 27-17 loss to the Bengals after Cincinnati scored 24 fourth quarter points to win by 10, and cover 6.5. This movement spells some value on Miami as the 3-point home dog and especially if you grab an available hook.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5)

This game has seen the biggest line movement after the Falcons got blown out in Pittsburgh last week to drop to 1-4 on the season. The Buccaneers had a bye last week and will be making the switch to Jameis Winston at quarterback.

CG Technology made the Falcons a touchdown favorite back in May. The SuperBook’s early number was similar with the Falcons -6.5 last week. After the Falcons got blown out by the Steelers 41-17 on Sunday, the SuperBook released the line at Atlanta -3.5 and it hasn’t moved off that number as of Wednesday.

There could be some value taking the Falcons here, although they haven’t had much of a home field advantage this year, going 1-2 SU and ATS, and have hemorrhaged 43, 37 and 41 points in their past three contests. 

Seattle Seahawks vs. Oakland Raiders (+3) – London

This game is being played in London and the Seahawks are seeing the line shift their way coming off a home loss to the Rams. The SuperBook made this game a pick ’em last week and then opened Seattle at -3. 

Even though the Seahawks are 2-3, the line says more about how bettors perceive the Raiders. The Jon Gruden era is off to a slow start with Oakland opening the season at 1-4. The Raiders have played three close game but they looked bad in a 26-10 blowout loss to the Chargers last week, while the Seahawks played well against the undefeated Rams, losing 33-31 as a 7-point underdog.

The London games are always tough because theirs no home field edge. The Seahawks look to be a little overvalued when you consider they’re coming off an emotional loss and now have to travel to London. This number looks like it should be closer to the pick it was last week and the -3 is an overreaction to Sunday’s results.

Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans (+3)

The Titans are leading the AFC South with a record of 3-2 and the Ravens are coming off a 12-9 loss to the Browns. Despite the Titans’ early season success, the line has gone towards the Ravens on the road.

Last week, the SuperBook had Baltimore -1 on the early lines but even after the Ravens’ loss to the Browns, the number has gone to -3. CG Technology had the Titans a 2.5-point favorite back in May and it can be argued that after five games, Tennessee has exceeded expectations.

The Titans are winning ugly and that kind of style typically doesn’t get the public excited. Tennessee has won both its home games by three points but a 13-12 loss in Buffalo last week is one reason the line went up to three. Losing to the Bills is one way to change the public’s perception of a team.

Note that the Ravens are 1-2 both SU and ATS on the road this season. The Titans are worth a look as one of the most undervalued teams in the NFL, while the average Ravens tend to be overvalued right now.

Also Check Out:

On The Pro Football Handle, Las Vegas-based sports talk voice Matt Perrault and veteran bookmaker Robert Walker of USBookmakingdive into select NFL games, line movements and bookmaker liabilities, plus greater sports betting topics and stories that may have nothing to do with football. Walker has seen it all behind the counter and Perrault the same from behind the microphone, so they’ll have you prepared for anything.

Here’s the NFL Week 6 pod:

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The post ‘Lookahead Lines’: Dolphins Spread Moves Out to Key Number Hosting Bears, Who Were Idle Last Week on Bye appeared first on SportsHandle.

Sports Betting And Injuries In College Football: Separating Good Information From Noise

The post Sports Betting And Injuries In College Football: Separating Good Information From Noise appeared first on SportsHandle.

Many serious college and professional football bettors have long believed that it’s imperative to consider injuries before pushing the cash across the counter or hitting the “make bet” button on the phone app or computer. Others believe bookmakers have built injuries into the offered betting lines, rendering monitoring of injuries a waste of time and effort.

Although injury information can sometimes be sparse or inaccurate, perhaps attributable to coaching gamesmanship, lots of experienced bettors believe when money is at stake, you’d better pay attention.

Right now in collegiate athletics, there is no conference that provides injury information on its players, in part due to concerns over privacy laws. However in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in May striking down the federal ban on full-fledged sports wagering outside Nevada, numerous coaches and NCAA athletic directors in major and minor conferences have signaled a tide turn and the possible if not likely future sharing of injury reports.

Week 1 NFL Picks: Bengals Bite, Vikings’ Might And More

The post TPS Report: Week 1 NFL Picks: Bengals Bite, Vikings’ Might And More appeared first on SportsHandle.

Week 1 is among the more difficult to handicap every NFL season. From Black Monday in early January through the preseason, every team gets recast with new coaches, coordinators, players come and go, schemes change, and in rare but shocking instances, the moving trucks show up overnight and your city loses the damn team entirely. The point is, year over year, every team is a different product, it’s only a matter of degree.

Since the start of the last NFL season, a lot of things have changed both in the NFL and the US sports betting world, and personally in the Smiley household. Put it all together and I wasn’t sure what would become of this column, which has been a joy of mine in some form for five years.

The NFL changes are mostly pretty standard NFL changes. A lot of things change and some remain the same, apparently now including the Atlanta Falcons’ inability to execute in the red zone.


For U.S. sports betting, well, everything has changed. By the end of this year, at least six new states outside Nevada will have legalized sports betting, with retail operations live, with varying level of mobile sport betting accessible. It may be years still before residents of some states have easy access to this Brave New Market  — such as the massive populations of Texas and California — but at least PASPA is gone and the door is now open.

On the personal front… I have always followed a week-to-week process of preparation for the NFL betting slate. It has been thrown into chaos recently. There are new and many responsibilities here at our growing Sports Handle, and more importantly I now have a two-week old son who in the past few days has urinated on my face more than once. Rookie mistake: I’ve learned you don’t leave a male infant’s bottom half uncovered mid-diaper change. I gave the stream a stiff-arm, closed in and let him finish against my open palm, rather than allow a soaking of the carpet or my shirt. He also requires feedings every few hours, which has cut into my sleep reservoir.  This is a Smiley boy, meaning he doesn’t miss a meal. It’s all worth it, of course, but I’m adjusting to a new life (mine and his) every day, and figuring out how to manage and maximize time.

I thought of retiring the Three-Point Stance Report (TPS) in a world where every major and minor publication now has writers making picks and offering gambling breakdowns. Some behind a paywall, others in front. What can Brett Smiley do differently? The answer I determined is just be myself, hopefully turn a few good jokes or phrases, and fall on the right side of 54 percent over the course of this season. Betting on NFL games is my main hobby, so why hang up the column? It’s why Sports Handle was born in the first place.

So the TPS Report marches on. This season we will cover the top five or six NFL games — “top” meaning the ones where I believe I can identify an edge or identify a winning wager, rather than reviewing the entire slate. Let’s get to it: The first NFL Week 1 of the post-PASPA era!

Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 at Indianapolis Colts (Total 48)

I think the Bengals are going to win outright,  but I’ll take the available 2.5 against the semi-trendy pick to bounce back and compete for the AFC South title — the Colts. It’s good to see that franchise QB Andrew Luck’s shoulder is well enough so he can play again in his first regular season game since New Year’s Day in 2017. For reference, that was three weeks before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Make of that what you will.

Luck showed some flashes of his old self in the preseason but temper your expectations about out his walk on the comeback trail. Consider these dispatches:



Capt. Luck is indeed ready but we could feel better about the Colts offense if he wasn’t playing, as ever, behind a mediocre-at-best offensive line that may be without starting left tackle Andrew Castonzo (who has struggled when healthy).

The Tiger men on are going to be bearing down on Luck, while on the other side the Colts see a new-look Bengals offense under coordinator Bill Lazor. A reset Bengals offense with improvements on their offensive line, namely additions of LT Cordy Glenn and 2018 first-rounder Billy Price (Ohio State) at center, will give Andy Dalton time to exploit a young, inexperienced defense, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.  

The pick: Bengals +2.5. 

Get the remaining picks TPS Report: Week 1 NFL Picks: Bengals Bite, Vikings’ Might And More on SportsHandle.

‘Cover City’: NFL Week 1 Picks, And Stories With @NotSportsCenter

The post ‘Cover City’: NFL Week 1 Picks, And Stories With @NotSportsCenter appeared first on SportsHandle.

Sports Handle is pleased to present Cover City: A Pro and College Football Betting Podcast, hosted by Eric Rosenthal (@EricSports). Rosenthal is a professional sports bettor who focuses on NFL and college football. He has wagered more than $25 million in the last nine years, getting banned from many sportsbooks along the way.

New episodes of Cover City will be released during the NFL and college football seasons on Mondays and Thursdays. Monday shows will cover the preceding slate of games with takeaways and what to watch for going forward, with fun interviews with sports media/social figures mixed in; Thursday episodes will cover top games and picks for the upcoming college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays.

It’s NFL Week 1! The time to debate whether or not to wager on preseason games and ultimately do it, is over!  Time codes for the episode follow below. 

00:30: Interview with Will Applebee, sports bettor and lawyer-turned-@NOTSportsCenter guy.  (Also behind@JeopardySports, @SomeonesAnIdiot and more.)

04:30: Falcons at Eagles

06:30: Steelers at Browns

09:30: 49ers at Vikings

12:20: Bengals at Colts

13:30: Bills at Ravens

15:30: Jaguars at Giants

17:00: Buccaneers at Saints

18:05: Texans at Patriots

19:47: Titans at Dolphins

22:45: Storytime with Applebee: The time that Kevin McHale’s wife went off on Rockets in Twitter rant.

26:45: Chargers at Chiefs

31:45: Broncos at Seahawks

33:00: Cowboys at Panthers

35:00: Redskins at Cardinals

36:30: Another story with Applebee:  A whirlwind legal kerfuffle with ESPN.

43:20: Packers at Bears

47:45: Jets at Lions.

49:15: Rams at Raiders

52:00: USC at Stanford

53:00: Appalachian State at Charlotte.

54:30: Best Bests: Eric’s SuperContest selections.

Introducing ‘Cover City Podcast’: @EricSports Previews NFL With @OldTakesExposed

The post Introducing ‘Cover City Podcast’: @EricSports Previews NFL With @OldTakesExposed appeared first on SportsHandle.

Sports Handle is pleased to present the debut episode of Cover City: An NFL and NCAA Football Sports Betting Podcast, hosted by Eric Rosenthal (@EricSports). Rosenthal is a professional sports bettor who focuses on NFL and college football. He has wagered over $25 million over the past nine years, getting banned from many sportsbooks along the way.

For the debut episode of Cover City we are thrilled to have Fred Segal of @OldTakesExposed for the entire show. Segal talks NFL win totals and dishes about his favorite online scuffles, and talks about the interesting things he finds in his direct messages.

Cover City will air during the NFL and college football seasons on Mondays and Thursdays. Mondays shows will cover the preceding slate of games with takeaways and what to watch for going forward, with fun interviews with sports media/social figures mixed in; Thursday episodes it will deliver 100 percent on top game and picks for the upcoming college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays.

Next week we will provide additional listening options at iTunes and the cornucopia of other platforms that now exist.  Whether you’re listening at the gym or in the car (or on the can), we appreciate you tuning in and welcome feedback. Time codes for the episode follow below. 

1:45: “Freezing Cold Takes” (Fred Segal) talks about the origin of the account @OldTakesExposed, its purpose and where it’s going

7:10: Segal, a south Florida native, discusses his beloved Miami Dolphins, the upcoming season and their season win total (o/u 6.5)

12:00: Going in detail on the Green Bay Packers, Rosenthal’s favorite team and the team he knows best; some value on the NFC North props.

23:30: Elsewhere in the NFC North, looking at hype and win totals for the Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions.

26:43: Examining the AFC East, owned and operated by the New England Patriots.

28:40: Buffalo Bills win total (o/u 6), which may see rookie QB Josh Allen under center. And flagging a potential cold take for Segal himself.

29:40: New York Jets win total (o/u 6).

30:10: New England Patriots win total (o/u 11).

31:15: All aboard the hype train for Jets rookie QB Sam Darnold? And who are the best rookie quarterbacks in this draft class and rookie of the year candidates. How much does Josh Rosen play for the Arizona Cardinals?

36:00: A glimpse into @OldTakesExposed’s direct messages… from people all over the sports media industry — about their competitors. And some people who have “denounced” Segal. And the time that one sports media person  got completely ratioed.

41:40: Back to the NFL — whipping around more win totals. The Seattle Seahawks’ surprisingly low odds to win the Super Bowl and the Los Angeles Rams to win the division or make the playoffs.

44:48: The San Francisco 49ers o/u 8.5 wins and +170 to make playoffs — are they legit, can they make the playoffs?

46:30: The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (o/u 10.5) and whether they a contender to repeat.

49:00: The Dallas Cowboys are 15:1 to win the NFC and 3:1 to and the NFC East.  Whose division is it?

50:02: Turning it up to lightning round — heading over to the AFC South for the Indianapolis Colts and the Cover City Best Bet of the Podcast.

51:55: The NFC South — up for grabs between the Saints, Falcons and Panthers.

53:37: Over to the AFC West: “Talk me into the Broncos or Chiefs, please.”

56:06: Last up, the AFC North. Split opinions on Steelers and Ravens.

57:20: Some final thoughts with Fred, his writing and the coming @OldTakesExposed media empire.

Programming note reminder: The Cover City Podcast will air during the NFL and college football seasons on Mondays with a recap of the previous week and some interviews with various sports media/social figures, and on Thursdays with a betting preview and picks for that week’s NFL and CFB slates.

Follow us on Twitter at @EricSports and @sports_handleAnd for more on the man behind @OldTakesExposed:

The post Introducing ‘Cover City Podcast’: @EricSports Previews NFL With @OldTakesExposed appeared first on SportsHandle.

Meet @Berryhorse, A Compelling New Voice in Sports Betting Modeling

The post Meet @Berryhorse, A Compelling New Voice in Sports Betting Modeling And Information appeared first on SportsHandle.

I first became aware of @Berryhorse when a few friends alerted me to his Twitter page. He’s gained quite a following thanks to his willingness to share his Major League Baseball betting model in an open Google spreadsheet, plus he provides insight into the model and his picks. Given his success this season, his profile on Twitter and Reddit has steadily grown.

According to his tracking, Berryhorse – whose real name is Kierian – is 166-138 (54.5%) on the season , +524.2 units and +22.45% ROI. (Note: We did not contemporaneously track or verify these MLB wagers/positions, but there is no shortage of followers who can attest to his success and are willing to make donations, which he has declined to accept and instead has referred them to charities.)

Berryhorse’s relatively new Twitter account has grown to nearly 8,500 followers. He updates his followers with his daily wagers and new information.  We caught up with Berryhorse and he explained his background, his thinking and intentions with the model, and what’s to come for football season. But first, here’s a thread that he wants every follower to read. 


Sports Handle (SH): To start, will you tell us a bit about your background?

Berryhorse (BH): I’ve been playing sports and watching sports for essentially my whole life. Basketball, football, golf, baseball and more. At the same time I’ve also always been a huge science and math nerd. I got into computer science my senior year of high school and majored in Computer Engineering and Computer Science in college. While at school I worked for an NBA analytics company, which was my introduction to machine learning and data science. Learning about this in the context of sports was awesome and eventually it became clear to me that it was possible to build predictive models to beat the sports betting markets.

Like most people I enjoy sports betting because of the money I earn, but by far my favorite part about it is that it quenches my thirst for competition. I love competing and winning and really enjoy that element of sports betting more than any other. I also love how it’s such a pure meritocracy. If you’re a winner, you’re a winner.

Over the long run you can put your money where your mouth is and prove your edge over the market. Of course the industry is full of scams and gimmicks but success in the actual betting market is purely based on merit. My favorite sport to bet on is baseball – highest volume of games, and when betting money lines the team’s incentives are always aligned with you as a bettor, unlike spread betting.

SH: Can you explain how the MLB model works?

BH: First, I have to give a lot of credit to Joe Peta, the author of “Trading Bases.” Much of how the model works is based on his principles. As simply as possible, the model prices each team against one another by projecting how good each team is at run production and run prevention.

There is no simulation of pitches or at bats or innings, it just says “team A is this good and team B is this good.” Once it has that information it can calculate a probability of one team winning the game and compare it with the Vegas line. When there’s a large disagreement between the two, it’s probably worth betting.

SH: How big a factor is the starting pitcher within the equation for each game?

BH: Starting pitchers matter as much as the specific starting pitcher matters. The run prevention number for the team obviously relies heavily on the starter and this is accounted for. Basically it calculates the RA number for the team if that starter pitched every game for them.

SH: What’s the most memorable cover you’ve had this baseball season? Wild ending, walk-off, or otherwise?

BH: The most memorable cover was the White Sox beating Cincinnati in CIN a few weeks ago. Lucas Giolito got rocked for 4 or 5 runs in the first and after spoiling a bunch of chances in extras, CHW eventually won in 12 by a few runs (and covered the run line). Most memorable loss: recently Kris Davis hit a 2-run shot with 2 outs and 2 strikes to win by one. That hurt. The most painful/memorable loss is always the most recent.

mlb betting model berryhorse twitter reddit khris davis hr

SH: Why do you keep the spreadsheet open? Are you interested in the conversation/discussion?

BH: I’m sharing all of this for a few reasons:

#1 and most importantly is I think my process of betting can be helpful for people and encourage them to think more analytically and reject some flawed ideas/myths in sports betting.

#2 I think I can help people win money.

#3 least important, and selfishly, I think it’s a good idea to build a reputation in sports because a lot of my long-term goals are in this space.

SH: What do you have in store for football season? Expect to focus on NFL or CFB or both?

BH: Football: I have models for both college football and NFL but I do not currently plan on making either public. I will share as much as I possibly can though.

(Note: In June, Kieran and his college roommate Jerry launched the podcast “Sports Thoughts” in iTunes (some words about the football model in Episode 7.)

SH: What’s the biggest lesson or takeaway, mathematical or otherwise, you’ve learned from the MLB season wagering?

BH: Biggest takeaway: Really the biggest takeaway is just simply the legitimacy of this model. I was expecting it to do well, but was not at all confident we’d see any season like I’ve enjoyed thus far.

SH: Can you offer some advice for beginners?

BH: I think one common mistake of beginners is not understanding the uncertainty of sporting events. In general, novice bettors are far too confident in their opinions and need to understand that sports are inherently very random and volatile. Typically this means new bettors skew towards betting a disproportionate amount of favorites.

Beginners should also be calculated with their risk allocation and bankroll management. There should be some element of betting more when they are more confident but still the maximum amount they bet should be a small portion of their overall bankroll. It is crucial to preserve and protect the sanctity of future earnings by never risking too much of their bankroll.

The post Meet @Berryhorse, A Compelling New Voice in Sports Betting Modeling And Information appeared first on SportsHandle.

Football Contests of Old Helped Create Today’s Massive Sports Betting Popularity

The post Football Contests of Old Helped Create Today’s Massive Sports Betting Popularity appeared first on SportsHandle.

As US gambling legislation produces new sports betting states and markets for legal sports wagering, more and more prospective bettors will have the long-awaited opportunity to join one or more now-legal “cash entry” football betting contests.

Such contests have a rich and vibrant history in the world of sports wagering and continue to occupy a somewhat understated historical position in the massive explosion of sports betting interest and wagering that followed.

Credit for the first high-stakes, football betting contest in Nevada is generally given to the late Julius “Sonny” Reizner, as described by Arne K. Lang in his book “Sports Betting and Bookmaking –An American History, “an affable and impish man in his mid-fifties (in 1978) who appeared in TV ads that captured his personality, bringing the vibe of a good neighbor to an industry in need of facelift.”

NFL Betting Contest Origins and Impact: ‘Friendly Frank’ Popularizes the ‘No Spreads’ Contest

sports betting stories nfl betting contest royal inn history
Courtesy Gaming Today

Also emerging in that year in Las Vegas was a mass-appeal, no-spread football contest called “Friendly Frank’s Pick the Pros” at the Royal Inn and the Barbary Coast, operated at the time by current South Point owners Michael Gaughan and partner Frank Toti. The entry fee ran $100 with a cash prize of $25,000 for the entrant picking the most winners over the course of the NFL season. The entrant who picked the fewest number of winners received $5,000.

Forty years later, many elements of Reizner’s contest are an integral part of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, and the Gaughan/Toti concepts are still in play at most of the Boyd Gaming casino/resorts in Las Vegas.

Reizner, almost always nattily attired in a sport coat and tie, ran the hole-in-the-wall book at The Castaways, one of the early hotels in Las Vegas. The Castaways, along with the Stardust and the Union Plaza, casinos marked the beginning of the migration of the standalone sports and racebook into mainstream Las Vegas, with designated spaces inside prominent hotel/casinos on the Strip and Downtown.

Strictly confined to NFL games, Reizner’s brainchild wasn’t inexpensive to enter: $1,000 when it began in 1978, with a prize fund growing each year. The first year of Castaways’ event, the winner was Gary Austin who defeated 55 others and who took home $42,000 and the title “Castaways World Champion of Pro Football Handicapper.” (I invite you to read up about the controversial Austin at your leisure.)

Eight years later, in 1986, $137,000 was up for grabs in the contest and in 1987, The Castaways advertised a $250,000 prize pool. Known and trademarked as the “Pro-Football Handicap,” the contest was a promotional home run for Castaways and Reizner in particular and sport betting in general.

Reizner gave out extra money for early entrants who won and even ran a preseason contest with a $50.00 entry fee at The Silver Slipper, a sister property through which he promoted his Castaways’ event.

Legacy of The Castaways’ Contest

nfl betting contest live odds castaways contests legacy
Courtesy Gaming Today

The Castaways was shuttered in July 1987 and demolished soon after to make way for the construction of The Mirage, which opened in 1989, on the prime Strip frontage. Despite The Castaways’ rich history — it was once owned by Howard Hughes — most remember it for the pioneering football contest conceived by Reizner.

The high price to enter The Castaways contest ($1,000) was significant and it utilized a point spread. The robust entry fee and big-buck prize pool made sure only the serious players took part. However, the ancillary benefit came when Reizner would post the various plays and consensus plays of the entrants for the public to see.

There was great interest in the plays of entrants like professional gamblers Lem Banker, Jim Feist and Austin. Both serious and casual players would come to the book when the plays were posted to see what games Banker, Feist and the others liked on Sunday and would then go to the windows to bet many of the NFL teams the entrants endorsed.

The significance of the contest can be viewed on a number of levels. It increased interest in betting, it created foot traffic for the casino and it served as the forerunner Westgate’s Supercontest (formerly known as the Hilton SuperContest and the LVH SuperContest), in which the 2017 winner took home $1.3 million.

[Also See: Breaking Down The 2017 Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest Winner’s Picks]

Just like football coaches, if a scheme works, others will play copycat. Nearly every other Nevada sportsbook took a page from Castaways and Reziner’s contest and Gaughan’s, including Caesars Palace, The Imperial Palace, Circus Circus and its other outlets including the Excalibur. In Reno, the Cal-Neva as well as other sportsbooks gave Northern Nevadans a chance to get in on what was becoming a highly competitive segment of the sports betting business. Entry fees varied and so did the rules. Some had point spreads, others did not.

Local taverns also began contests, offering up cash and prizes to customers who picked the most winners each week. A perfect card against the point spread and including some totals, especially on the Monday night game could net a participant $10,000. Newly opened casinos in Mississippi in the 1990’s also began contests, and just like the local taverns, entry was free to avoid any problem with state regulators. A contest was also offered at least one Trump property in Atlantic City. Because it was free to enter, as were contests at Nevada taverns, it was not illegal.

Making Contests Bigger and Better

nfl betting contests pick em contests nfl odds
Courtesy Gaming Today

Over the years, some sportsbooks targeted casual players by lowering the entry fee and guaranteeing a bigger prize pool that offered bigger money for weekly winners, as well as total regular season handicapping performance. Gaughan and Toti opened up the football contest for everyone by gradually reducing their initial $100 entry fee and emphasizing that no point spread was used. Now, even the most casual player could get involved and dream about the “Pick the Pro’s” big cash awards, if you were the lone weekly winner or if you had the most wins at the end of the season.

Entrants soon found out that even without the point spread, picking NFL winners is infinitely more difficult than it appears.

When Gaughan sold the Royal Inn, his hugely popular contest moved to the Barbary Coast on the Las Vegas Strip and as Gaughan and Toti’s Coast Casinos expanded to include the Gold Coast, Suncoast and The Orleans, this contest and the one offered by Station Casinos became a bonanza for the weekly and season-long winners as well as for the casinos because of the high player traffic they generated.

Local Las Vegans saw contest hysteria ramping up throughout the 1980’s and beyond as the all the major local-centric operators, which included Boyd Gaming, as well as Stations Casinos and Coast Casinos, targeted residents through these contests.

All of the properties gearing their marketing towards locals rewarded the best handicappers with multiple entries costing less money with a chance to win as much as $25,000 in a weekly contest as well as a prize in the $100,000 range for the most wins over the course of the regular season. Just one entry in one of these contests could be as low as $25.00 for the entire season. Often, if a player bought four, they received a fifth one free.

In the 1990’s it was not uncommon at a Station, Coast Casino (before its merger with Boyd) or a Boyd property to have long lines late on Friday night as the bowling leagues wrapped up for the evening and the bowlers would adjourn to the sportsbook to put in their selections.

The contest concept spread to free contests for employees at many casino/resorts and was used as a team-building incentive and further helped plant the seeds for today’s massive sports betting handle in Nevada.

The season-ending prize was based on total wins, thus requiring entrants to visit the casino each week to enter. If you missed a week, it was impossible to win the big, year-end prize because a “no play” was considered a loss.

Stations took the contest idea to a new level with cash prizes for the player(s) with the most losses and those who came closest to having half correct and half wrong, calling it “Fiddle in the Middle.” Stations for several years offered a free house option as first prize for the most winners, if the winner wanted that instead of the cash. That’s right, you won an actual house if you wanted that instead of the cash.

Syndicates created teams of entrants coaxing friends and relatives to enter and would submit hundreds and even thousands of entries each week, a practice technically against the rules, but impossible to enforce.

Today, contests remain in vogue in and around Las Vegas. Participants usually are required to use a kiosk to make their bets, thus making syndicate action a little less significant. However, just as when they were conceived forty years ago, it takes more than a little luck to win.

The Westgate’s SuperContest even promotes the option of proxy play, in which an entrant can designate a friend or a proxy service to make the plays in place of the registered entrant. Using a proxy allows an entrant to visit Las Vegas to register and then make the selection from another state or country.

If there’s a way to make a contest bigger and better, Las Vegas will think of it.  

Next time in Part II: what you need to know and consider when entering a new “cash entry” football contest where you live.

Robert H. Mann, a 31-year resident of Las Vegas, is the industry writer and columnist for Gaming Today newspaper and GamingToday.com. His opinions are his own and may not reflect those of Sports Handle.

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