One of the major drivers of sports betting handle in Nevada has been football handicapping contests. In Part One, we presented a history of this under-appreciated foundation of football wagering.
Such contests helped grow sports wagering’s popularity in the Silver State and will likely be offered to attract bettors in emerging legal sports betting markets nationwide.
But before you enter such a contest, there are some keys worth considering in the pursuit of a big prize — and the pride of winning such a contest.
NFL Lines Pick ‘Em Contests: Finding the Contest That Works For You
When considering entering a football contest, keep in mind that a high entry fee translates to fewer entrants, but a bigger cash payout to those who pick the most winners. These contests usually require entrants to pick against the spread. A win percentage above 60 percent is often enough to win lower-entry affairs. They usually only include NFL games on Sunday and Monday night. If you prefer to bet college games, they are not a part of most contests because of the more volatile point spreads in the college game, compared to the pros.
Part of the appeal of any contest is that it appears easier to pick winners than it really is. Big-money contests are a serious handicapping challenge, even for the best in the business. A casual player in any contest must always consider the competition. If you risk $1,000 or more to enter, you are likely to be facing off against the best-of-the-best.
Can You Really Beat Them?
These professional or semi-professional football bettors do their homework, watch All-22 films, and consider the market and their selections carefully. They often have multiple entries and if their pockets are deep enough, will utilize friends and family members to add even more.
With a lone entry, it’s a major accomplishment to win because players with multiple entries or syndicates can isolate the best plays and then “dutch” — the term for playing both sides of a game — thereby increasing their chances of picking more winners than you can on one or two entries.
[Also See: Breaking Down The Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest Winner’s Picks]
It takes skill and a bit of luck to win a big-money, high-entry fee contest($1,500) such as the Las Vegas Westgate’s SuperContest, which paid $1.3 million to first place winner in 2017, in a field of 2,748. Entrants in the Westgate’s SuperContest Gold ponied up $5,000 apiece in the winner-take all tournament. If you are relying on luck alone, the others may have you a major disadvantage.
Playing a “No-Spread” Contest
The more casual player may want to look for a no-spread football contest with a smaller entry fee, such as one in which buying four entries gets you a fifth one free. In such contests you just need to pick winners, never mind the spread.
Now, you may be able to play both sides of evenly matched teams just like the pros do. However, now your problem becomes the sheer number of entrants you have to beat. The lower-cost, no-spread contests in a major casino/resort may boast more than 100,000 entries. Many entrants will pick only the favorites. Such contests typically offer weekly prizes that get divided between hundreds of winners, and can result in a pocket change reward.
Being the sole weekly winner in any weekly subset of a no-spread contest is very rare and can only happen when numerous underdogs win outright. If you pick too many underdogs during a week when favorites win, you seriously undermine your chances for a significant year-end prize. The spreads exist for a reason. Then again, if you zig when others zag and the underdogs string together a good week or a season, you stand to climb the standings and fetch a real prize while others blindly back the favorites.
For all of these reasons, a no-spread contest should be generally regarded as entertainment with the idea of taking any serious cash home only a by-product of the fun. Such contests are enjoyable because they make the games more interesting. You can win. Just don’t count on it.
Bar Cards at your Neighborhood Tavern
A third kind of contest exists at some local bars or restaurants and is usually completely free. These establishments may offer a big prize, perhaps as much as $10,000, for perfect card. That might mean getting 16-of-16 games against the spread, perhaps more using totals. The Monday night game total is often used on a “bar contest card” as a tie-breaker, but usually totals are not part of the higher-end or mass-market competitions.
Your local bar may offer smaller prizes and swag to the customer who picks the most winners each week, but usually these are weekly contests, with no year-end prize for the most winners. Again, these kinds of contest are used to get customers to come back and reward those that do. If you can determine how many entrants a contest has, you can better determine if it’s worth your time to enter.
These contests generally have fewer entrants and although the grand prize for a perfect card is almost never awarded, they can still make watching the games more enjoyable. Many regard sports betting as a social activity and contests can make a few hours watching the games with friends at a local pub more fun than ever.
Many of the contests that will spring up near you will be played using a kiosk. For better or worse, the mass appeal, low-entry fee or free competitions are now largely marketing tools to get you to come back to the casino again and again. That sportsbook near you wants your physical address and e-mail address so they can advertise to you. They may even sell that information to a third party. These kinds of contest almost always require a visit to the book and are not available online.
An internet-only contest, and there are many out there, will have so many entrants your chances of winning are greatly diminished. Again, your e-mail address is required, so get ready to get bombarded by offers for all manner of products and services.
Many contests use the Monday night total as a tie-breaker, so it’s important to spend a few moments making this selection. It can be the difference between a little cash and a lot.
Be sure and read the rules and all the fine print. You might be required to do some publicity and have your picture taken if you win and, be advised, your winnings are taxable income. That can influence your relationship with Uncle Sam in many ways including your Medicare payments and other government programs.
Stay away from the big-money events unless you are a serious bettor. Enjoy the mass-market contests for the pleasure. Don’t expect to get rich.
However, someone always wins and it could be you.
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.