Chris Leveque entered the pool on a whim.
Leveque, a Las Vegas resident, engaged in a casual conversation with a poker player at a $1-$2 cash game at the South Point Hotel & Casino when he learned of an intriguing, new rodeo contest. Each December, the hotel serves as a hub of sorts for rodeo enthusiasts during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s most prestigious event on the Pro Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) calendar, which concludes on Saturday Dec. 14.
There, Leveque learned about a daily jackpot parlay card being offered at the South Point sportsbook. Down about $200 on the poker table, Leveque decided to give the $5,000 NFR jackpot a shot.
“Now, full-disclosure I know nothing about the Rodeo,” he said with a grin.
Rodeo and sports betting: saddle up
The South Point contest requires each entry to select the winner of the seven nightly events: Bareback Riding, Steer Wrestling, Team Roping, Saddle Bronc Riding, Tie-Down Roping, Barrel Racing and Bull Riding. There were 10 selections available for each event – nine highly-ranked contestants, plus an “all others,” selection with the rest of the field. Leveque quickly developed a picking strategy based on the short conversation at the poker table.
“My logic was the bottom guys weren’t that much worse than the top nine guys,” he told Sports Handle.
When Leveque arrived at the book on Dec. 9, Day 5 of NFR, he selected the “all others,” category for the majority of the events. The strategy paid off, as Leveque hit three winners topping a field of 224 cards. As the sole winner of the contest, Leveque pocketed $5,000 on a $10 entry — an amount he split in half with a close friend. Four winners split the pool on Day 1, winning $1,250 each, while a day later three entrants tied for first. All three received a check of $1,670.
Although Las Vegas is hosting the NFR this December for the 35th time in the illustrious history of the event, this year marks the first time the South Point is offering the contest.
$5k GUARANTEED DAILY JACKPOT!🐴💲🤠
— South Point Hotel (@southpointlv) December 12, 2019
While Leveque triumphed in the contest despite admittedly knowing little about the sport, Rodeo fans are a very knowledgeable group, said Jeff Stoneback, director of race & sports trading operations at MGM Resorts International.
For the third consecutive year, MGM Resorts is offering lines on the Bull Riding competition at betting windows inside the MGM Grand and on its mobile betting platform. Through the first six rounds of the 10-day event, the largest payout at MGM was just under $4,000 on a wager on Stetson Wright, Stoneback said. Wright, a rookie from Milford, Utah, captured the Bull Riding competition on opening night of the national finals at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center with a 92.5-point ride on 4L & Diamond S Rodeo’s Monte Walsh.
Wright opened at MGM with odds of 12/1, but received enough support to close at 5/2 in pre-contest markets. Wright has been a popular choice among bettors. He comes from the First Family of Rodeo, a family with significant riding chops. Wright’s father Cody is a two-time world champion in Saddle Bronc riding, while his brother Ryder captured the world championship in the event in 2017. Two of Wright’s uncles, Jesse and Spencer, also won the Saddle Bronc world championship in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
“We put our odds up the first few days and made adjustments the following days based on who the fans were wagering,” Stoneback said. “You could say the fans ‘made the market’ for us.”
Thorough research on the bull drawn to each rider can help a bettor immensely. On Thursday, five-time defending NFR champion Sage Kimzey drew Powder River Rodeo’s SweetPro’s Bruiser, a bull widely regarded as the best bucking bull in the world. For bettors, the highly-anticipated matchup represented a boom or bust proposition.
Bruiser, a three-time Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Champion Bull and the 2017 PRCA Bucking Bull of the Year, ended his 2016 season with 14 consecutive buckoffs. A stellar ride from Kimzey, though, could produce an exceptional score. As Kimzey entered the chute, thousands of fans eagerly awaited the matchup of the event.
“This is a clash of titans,” the public address announcer exclaimed at Thomas & Mack.
When the gate shot open, Bruiser spun rapidly in a circle, then bucked hard lifting his hind legs into the air. Kimzey glanced down and noticed that his left foot nearly hit his hand. Kimzey, however, gritted his teeth, quickly regained his balance and remained on Bruiser for a full eight seconds.
Kimzey’s finished with a score of 94.0, the top score over the first eight rounds at this year’s NFR. He also finished just one point below Colby Yates score of 95.0 points in 2002, the round’s all-time record for top score in Wrangler NFR history.
“It takes laser focus, that’s the difference between 94 points and zero,” Kimzey said. “For me, whenever the stakes are so high that’s when my focus always gets a little sharper.”
This is one of those rides you’ll remember.@SageKimzey vs. SweetPro’s Bruiser lived up to the billing, as the reigning five-time world champion put up an electrifying 94 points to win his second straight round at the #WranglerNFR. pic.twitter.com/GM4cHuHrtx
— Wrangler Network (@WranglerNetwork) December 13, 2019
An insider’s knowledge of Barrel Racing also gives bettors a considerable advantage in South Point’s parlay contest. The first few Cowgirls are able to ride on “top of the ground,” in rodeo parlance, before the ground becomes softer preventing the horses from sprinting as fast. According to form, Hailey Kinsel captured the event on Thursday evening in 13.54 seconds. Kinsel, the defending world champion, broke third in Round 8 after Lacinda Rose and Nellie Miller. Both the contestant order and the bull assignments are typically released several hours before the start of the round.
#NFR Night 8! We have the results of our NFR Daily Jackpot Card for 12/12/19! Make sure you come down to the South Point tomorrow to get your picks in! #VegasCowboyCentral @LasVegasNFR
#OnlyAtSouthPoint #NFR2019 #Rodeo #SouthPointLV pic.twitter.com/SonArXfvkc
— South Point Hotel (@southpointlv) December 13, 2019
Limits at MGM Resorts are relatively low, Stoneback said. At Circa Sports, which is offering odds on Bull Riding for the first time, the limits are capped at $300 a wager. Once the lines are adjusted, as in the case of Wright on opening night, bettors have the option of betting up to $300 again at lower odds, said Mike Palm, vice president of operations at Circa Sports.
Palm is optimistic that handle for Bull Riding next year will rise exponentially as word spreads of rodeo betting. The Wrangler NFR attracts thousands of fans each year from Texas and Colorado, helping bolster the handle on NFL games featuring the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Texans and Denver Broncos.
Though legal sports betting continues to expand nationwide, Kimzey is used to competing in many states that don’t offer gambling on rodeo. Nevada is not one.
“Anytime you can have fan interaction in the sport, it’s awesome,” Kimzey said. “I just think that’s a special thing that Vegas adds to the mix.”