Welcome to Sports Handle‘s recurring “Ask a Bookmaker” column, which answers many of the common (and uncommon!) questions gamblers and enthusiasts have about how sportsbooks operate in the modern age of sports betting.
The executive vice president of race and sportsbook operations at the Westgate SuperBook, Jay Kornegay has been in the sports betting industry for more than 30 years. After getting his start in Lake Tahoe, Kornegay took his talents to Las Vegas, where he opened the Imperial Palace sportsbook in 1989 before taking the reins of the 30,000-square-foot SuperBook in 2004. A Colorado State University alum whose putting stroke tends to betray him on the back nine, Kornegay has helped navigate the SuperBook’s expansion into multiple states since PASPA was overturned in 2018.
Have a question you’d like to ask Kornegay? Send it to [email protected]. The Q&A below has been edited for clarity and brevity.
SH: You’ve got lines up already for every game of the regular season. What is it that makes sportsbooks more willing to do this sort of thing with the NFL than with college football and other sports?
JK: Pro football is king. We’ve done it over the last couple years and it has stirred up a lot of interest from football fans, whether they’re educated players or recreational players. One of the comments that we hear quite often is “I’m going to that game.” Everyone has an opinion on where a game should be, even this far out. They’re very proud of that [when they beat us]. We never get to hear from the ones who lose.
Have there been any games a little deeper into the season that futures bettors seem to have already taken a keen interest in?
The futures book is very popular throughout the whole year. We start to see spikes as we get closer, but the NFL is covered so well that news breaks out, opinions are shared, and it stirs interest among the football bettors. The educated players are always looking at value and are betting it before odds are lowered. The recreational players are the same — they’re just not as good at it.
As for teams or players that have taken a lot of futures action in various markets thus far, who are bettors backing in large numbers that might surprise people?
There’s been a lot of hype around the Bears. Justin Fields is creating a lot of stir in Chicago. The Bears normally get a lot of attention just because of the large market they come from, but with optimism just overflowing in Chicago, it’s really spiked interest in the futures book. The Bears have been getting a lot of hype, and it’s definitely reflected in the ticket count across the board.
The Super Bowl’s coming to Vegas for the first time this season. Is there already a different energy in the air at the sportsbook or in the city around this, or are people more focused for now on November’s inaugural Vegas F1 race?
Both. We get a lot of talk about the F1 event here. Most of that revolves around the construction that all the locals have to deal with, and I gotta say, it’ll test your patience a bit when you’re driving around.
I get a lot of questions, like, “I can’t believe the Super Bowl is here in Las Vegas, it seems so surreal. Are you guys ready for it?” Yep, we’re very honored to host the Super Bowl after all these years of being the bad boys. It wasn’t that long ago when the NFL wouldn’t allow Las Vegas to advertise during the Super Bowl, even if we were to take out all gaming aspects and just advertise hotels, the city, the restaurants.
The Aces winning the WNBA title and the Golden Knights winning the Stanley Cup obviously resulted in losses for the SuperBook. But those were losses that were probably worth it, in that the civic benefit outweighed the financial deficit. Would that equation change at all if the Raiders were to win a Super Bowl one day?
Yep, it’s a different animal. I have season tickets to the Knights. I’ve always loved hockey. We really enjoyed that run, but the Raiders have a bigger reach. They’re the true definition of a regional team and possibly a national team. Their following is through the roof.
Before they announced they were moving to Las Vegas, they had a great season going and then Derek Carr got hurt. During that stretch where they were one of the better teams in the NFL, their games were one of the most popular, most bet games that we posted. The action on those games was a little surprising and unexpected, but there was no doubt we had to feature those games because it was the most popular game every week.
With that being said, because of their tremendous fan base, when that time comes, we’re gonna take a hit. And we’ve already run this by our senior executives. We operate in Tennessee. I guarantee that if the Tennessee Volunteers win the national championship, we are gonna take a hit in Tennessee. Even though I’m a Broncos fan, I’m always going to be rooting for the local team, and if that local team happens to be the Raiders making a run to the championship and hoisting that trophy, it’s gonna cost the books in this city a lot of money. We’re gonna have to raise the price on our reuben.
Can you talk a bit about this year’s SuperContest and how it differs from past years?
The SuperContest has been around since 1988. It’s been the most prestigious pro football handicapping contest for a long time. It has changed in recent years due to competition. We had to change the prize structure to differentiate ourselves from others. Instead of one big grand prize, our contest, which is still a $1,000 entry fee, that $1,000 qualifies you for 12 contests — regular-season champion and 11 in-season contests: the three six-week contests, the six three-week contests, and the two nine-week contests.
What’s the prize money estimate?
As far as the in-season prizes, for the three-week, first place gets $25,000 and we pay the top three. The six-week, it’s $50,000 and we pay the top four. For the nine-week, it’s $75,000 and we pay out the top five. The winner of the overall season is all based off the number of entries. After we pay out the weekly contest, the winner would get 42 percent of the pool.
When do entries close?
September 9 at 3 p.m. local time. You don’t have to be a Nevada resident. You can utilize a proxy service. Plenty use it. You can have up to seven entries, and we also have the SuperContest Gold, which is the same format. The difference is the entry fee is $5,000, with winner take all. You’re up against the big boys there, but you’d be surprised how many average Joes win that, even though the educated players probably win more frequently over time.