Westgate Las Vegas Supercontest players in NFL Week 8 turned in a season-high performance, averaging 3.04 points with nearly 10 percent of the field scoring a perfect 5-0. A total of 270 of the 3,123-entrant field notched 5 points as the top six most popular sides covered the spread this week.
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley’s wise football decision to hit the ground and kill the clock rather than cruise into the end zone against the Packers, while leading 29-27 in the waning seconds, had no impact on the 9.5-point SuperContest spread. Even if Gurley had punched it in, the Rams would have kicked the extra point, making the margin 9 at most.
And the Packers +9.5 coming off their bye at the undefeated Rams was the most popular side, by the way. Nearly 40 percent of the pool put their faith in Aaron Rodgers in a spot where his Packers were the biggest point-spread underdog in his career. Here’s the Week 8 sports betting snapshot, then we’ll dig into more of the key decisions this week.
The New York Giants delivered more agita on Monday night for scores of Giants fans but in the end, with five ticks remaining, Big Blue came through for the bettors on a late Eli Manning touchdown strike to Odell Beckham Jr. from short range.
The TD narrowed the score 23-18 in the Falcons’ favor, which actually sealed the cover in the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, in which the spread locked at 5.5. For spread bettors outside the SuperContest, the Giants’ successful two-point conversion resulting in a 23-20 final would have given most/all Giants backers at cover as the line floated and closed around 3.5 or 4 at most shops.
Everything else being equal on the time-space-football continuum, Giants head coach Pat Shurmur’s earlier analytics-driven decision to go for a two-point conversion (which failed) when the Giants trailed 20-12, did not ultimately impact the SuperContest spread. But it certainly made the final Saquon Barkley two-point rushing plunge a spread-tastic conclusion to MNF game between two teams going nowhere.
Overall, four of the top five consensus SuperContest picks (figures via FantasySuperContest) were favorites who covered the number — the Vikings, Patriots, Chiefs and Lions. Here’s a snapshot of Week 7 and then we’ll get into some specifics.
To round out NFL Week 6, the Green Bay Packers (-9.5) gave little hint of a cover on Monday night against the visiting San Francisco 49ers in another vintage Aaron Rodgers performance in which the QB brought the Pack back from 30-23 for a 33-30 win as time expired.
Together with the Chiefs-Patriots Arena Football League-themed game on Sunday night, teams in the two primetime games combined for 146 points scored. But back to the point spreads that decide fates in the 3,120 player field competing for a $1.5 million top prize in the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest: It was not a pretty picture for the most popular teams this week, which went 1-4 overall, the lone cover coming courtesy Pittsburgh at Cincinnati.
Contestants collected a respectable 2.4 with two points apiece, a step up from Week 5’s 2.24, but let’s dig into what went wrong for top consensus picks New England, Jacksonville, Chicago and Indianapolis (figures via FantasySuperContest). Here’s the weekly snapshot, then we’ll dig into the consensus picks and a bit more below:
Sports Handle is pleased to present Cover City: A Pro Football Betting Podcast, hosted by Eric Rosenthal (@ericcports). Rosenthal is a professional sports bettor who focuses on NFL and college football. He’s wagered more than $25 million in the last nine years, getting banned from many sportsbooks along the way.
Before diving into the NFL Week 6 breakdown and picks, special guest Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL), a projections and fantasy football specialist with ESPN NFL, joins the pod to discuss advanced stats, best wide receivers for Week 6, his top survivor pool picks and more.
Producer Sean Sean Pfeiffer (@RotoRadarCEO) joins to discuss the slate and some big totals, plus don’t miss Rosenthal’s SuperContest picks of the week.
Overall in NFL Week 4, contestants in the $1,500 entry Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest nearly matched to the decimal their performances in Weeks 1 and 3, when they scored an average 2.70 and 2.77 points respectively.
Players in the 3,120 field competing for a (roughly) $1.5 million top prize collected an average 2.76 points this week (figures via FantasySuperContest) as the top five consensus picks went 3-2 — the fifth most popular selection being Colts -1 vs. Texans in what was nearly a miraculous Colts overtime cover.
At the top of the leaderboard, players ranked 14 and up are all hitting at 80 percent or better, with the leader SHABOOM at 17-3 (85 percent). Very impressive but regression is coming, as previous first-place winners settled around 70 percent.
In NFL Week 2, the underdogs bit hard with an 11-5 performance against the spread and seven outright victories. That outcome walloped contestants in the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, holding the average entry to just 1.93 correct picks out of 5. NFL Week 3 went much better for the players, who picked up an average 2.70 points (remember a push is 0.5 points), a shade behind Week 1’s 2.77-point performance (figures via FantasySuperContest).
Unlike last week where each of the top five consensus picks failed to cover (and lost outright), the top three consensus picks this week all covered the number.
There was not a single unblemished entry remaining after Week 2 among the 3,000-plus entry field. Today the overall pool co-leaders are a pack of five, each at 13-2. Here’s the weekly snapshot, then we’ll dig into the consensus picks and a bit more below:
While you may have been sleeping on the East Coast, the Los Angeles Rams let the Oakland Raiders hang around a while before racking up 23 second half points in a 33-13 beatdown. Favored by 4 based on the static SuperContest lines (the line closed around 6), the Rams easily covered after falling behind 13-10 at halftime.
The Rams win gave roughly one-third of the pool a W, according to stats compiled by FantasySuperContest, in a Week 1 in which 22 of the record field of 3,123 Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest entries finished a perfect 5-0 and players picked up a average 2.43 points.
Here’s the against-the-spread record (and other records) for the NFL’s Week 1 (referencing non-static lines as in the SuperContest). Then we’ll get to the SuperContest selections and look closer at the results:
The Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest is on pace to have another record-breaking year – and a second $1 million winner. The 29-year-old contest continues to see rapid growth and as of late last week, according to Westgate’s Vice President Race & Sports Operations, Jay Kornegay, the SuperContest and SuperContest Gold are on pace to attract a record number of entrants.
Last year, the winner, whose handle was ‘Grannys Boy’ won $1.3 million by beating 2,747 other entrants to walk away with the grand prize. He had a 72 percent winning percentage and followed a barista who won $905,000 and took the bus to the Westgate to collect his winnings in 2016. As of Sept. 2, 2,500 entrants had registered for the SuperContest, ahead of last year’s pace,.
The two-year-old SuperContest Gold had 81 contestants in 2017, and as of Sept. 2, 94 are registered for 2018. Kornegay estimates there will be 100 or more participants.
Sports Betting SuperContest Saw a Huge Boom With the Advent of Social Media.
#SuperContest hits 2,500! Earlybird ends Monday Sept 3rd at 4pm. Final deadline on Saturday Sept 8 at 11am. We’re about 400 ahead of last years record pace.
Paragon Gaming will take its “SuperBook” brand on the road, and expand beyond the company’s Westgate Las Vegas Casino & Resort, Jay Kornegay, the Westgate SuperBook’s Vice President of Race and Sports Operations told Sports Handle on Thursday. A formal announcement will be made Sept. 5., but the plan is to take the SuperBook brand to locations throughout Nevada as well as other states that have legalized sports betting, and possibly those that are heading in that direction.
“We’re separating ourselves from (the Westgate name), and we’re looking to go into other states and will operate as ‘SuperBook,’” Kornegay said. “So it would be like, ‘the SuperBook at Del Mar,’ for example. We’ve been working on this for months.”
While Kornegay wouldn’t specify where outside of the Nevada that Paragon is looking at expansion, he did say that the company has been talking to potential partners “on a daily basis.” He went on to say that he’d expect the first independent SuperBook to open within a few months. Deals are already in place with several Nevada locations, and the company continues to talk with operators in other states.
SuperBook Will Expand Its Sports Betting Expertise From Las Vegas to Other Parts of Nevada, and States With Legalized Sports Betting.
According to a story in the Las Vegas Journal-Review earlier this month, Kornegay will run the show along with Geno Iafrate, the former Westgate general manager, who will now have an executive spot in the new company, which will be be a part of the Westgate empire.
“There will be a huge market swarming to these new, legal sports books, spreading across the country,” Kornegay told the Journal-Review. “I feel the expansion of sports gaming will follow the same path as the cellphone business. It’s infant stages in this country now, but we’ll see sports gaming options almost on every corner someday. It’ll be like the U.K., where they’re as common as barbershops.”
SuperBook would join companies like William Hill, which has signed deals to operate sportsbooks for existing casinos in states that have legalized sports betting since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was deemed unconstitutional in May. William Hill has been running the sportsbook at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park since the Garden State took its first sports bet earlier this summer. It also has deals in place in Mississippi and West Virginia, which will kick off sports betting Saturday. In addition, William Hill will partner with IGT to run the sportsbooks in Rhode Island, when sports betting begins. IGT will provide the sports wagering platform.
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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
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
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.
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
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 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.