by Micah Roberts
Football contests sponsored by Las Vegas casinos are a huge attraction to players during football season, partly because there is such a huge overlay, meaning that the casinos pay more out than they take in.
These contests range from weekly "freebies" to high-stakes affairs with buy-ins of $1,500 to $2,500 and more. Nonetheless, they might be the best value in Las Vegas for the guests because it remains one of the only consistently accepted loss leaders that the big casino bosses keep intact.
Most of these contests around town range from being free to $25 and the often encourage and reward multiple entries.
The minimal entry fee contests seem to be popular with everyone. Most of them don’t have point spreads and it’s all about picking the NFL winners, which can be more difficult than it seems. Everyone has an equal opportunity, so whether the entrant actually handicaps the teams or uses a strategy by picking colors or choosing their favorite city, it’s wide open.
For the serious handicapper who prides himself on being better than most in picking winners against the spread, there are several high-end contests in Las Vegas – usually against the world’s top experts.
Another reason these high-stakes contests have become popular over the last decade is because there’s a smaller pool of players to go against, coupled with a high reward for beating them.
Another attraction to the high-end contests is they are often highly publicized around the betting world and they attract some of the best handicappers in the business. Recreational bettors are always intrigued to see who is documented by the contest as being the best and what their selections are from week to week.
Some of the players who have done well in these contests have actually gone on to have successful handicapping services using that publicity to spur their business.
Here’s a closer look at the upper-end football contests in Las Vegas.
Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest -Entry fee $1,500
This is the grandfather of all the high end contests and the one that started it all in Las Vegas. The base format is relatively unchanged with five mandatory pro football selections each week against the spread, with all entries, fees returned as prize money. But Hilton Super Book Executive Director Jay Kornegay saw a need to make a subtle change this year.
"Our objective was to generate more than the 350 entries we had last season," Kornegay said, "and one small change could help, which is pushing back the contest entry deadline of Friday to Saturday at 11 a.m. We may have hindered ourselves in maximizing entries in the past with the nine to fivers who want to go to a book after work on a Friday, handicap, have a beer, and unwind."
This will be Kornegay’s fifth year running the contest, which pays out to the top 20, with the winner getting $220,000. The Super Contest also offers bonuses totaling up to $20,000 paid out of their own pocket: $10,000 will be guaranteed to the best record over the last three weeks of the season for all entrants that sign up before Sept.7. The other bonus of $10,000 goes to contestants who can hit 67% or higher for the season.
"It seems like a really tough achievement," Kornegay said, "but we’ve paid the bonus in two of the last five years."
South Point Friendly Frank’s Pro Challenge: Entry Fee $2,500
This will be the third year the South Point will be offering the high end contest. This is another contest that has a huge overlay possibility. They are guaranteeing $250,000 in prize money regardless if they get the 100 entries it would take to pay for the contest. All additional entry fees are paid out to the top four finishers, with the winner guaranteed $100,000.
Another attraction to this contest is the bonus of $50,000 to contestants who win at a 65% clip or better for the year. All weekly entries must be submitted by 2 p.m. on Saturday.
M Resort Football Contest: Entry Fee: $3,000
Opened last March, M Resort is the newcomer on the block, but they’re doing everything to catch the neighbors’ attention. This contest has the highest entry fee of all the high end contests in Las Vegas. Only 30 entries will be taken for the contest with a $100,000 prize pool.
One of the major differences between M’s contest and some of the others is that they require contestants to pick three pro games and three college games against the spread. Each week, the full schedule of games will be used with about 15 college games offered to choose from.
To entice players to sign up early, the M is offering an early-bird bonus of a $2,000 two-team Super Bowl parlay to entrants who sign up before Aug. 29.
Station Casinos: The Challenge: Entry fee: $500
The Station’s high end contest made a few changes, and they are very player friendly, with virtually no risk for the player. The contest entry has been dropped to $500 from the $1,000 entry fee of the past, but in the new format, Stations will give back all of the all entry fee for just turning in your selections all 17 weeks. Just play every week and it’s basically a free roll.
On top of the free-roll, Stations will also place $100 into your sports connection account should you turn in selections for all 17 weeks. They are basically paying the guest $100 to hold your money for 17 weeks and ensure you make a weekly visit each week of the football season.
The top prize for winning is a guaranteed $25,000. Second place is $10,000, with third place taking $5,000. They also have a $10,000 bonus for the best record in the four week mini-contest. Another bonus of $50,000 is offered for contestants who can pick at a 67% clip or better.
The concept remains the same. Make five selections each week with the weekly pro football games and two selected college games. Updated standings are posted each week in the book.
The new changes are fantastic and very player friendly, equally for the recreational bettor and sharp players alike.
LeRoy’s Pro and College Challenge: Entry Fee: $250 each
The sports book with multiple locations throughout Nevada has a couple of mid-range priced contests that appeal to both college and NFL football handicappers. Each contest entry fee is $250 with all prize money returned to the players.
The lower price and mix of both college and pro action make this a very attractive opportunity for both the serious handicapper and the recreational bettor. In each contest, the top 40 finishers win prize money, which is dictated by the amount of entrants. If 400 entries are signed up, first place will net $30,000.
Players can buy up to five entries per person for each league. In the college format, the entrant must select seven games a week against the spread. Deadline for entries is Friday, Sept. 4.
In the pro format, the entrant must select five games a week and the deadline to sign-up is Saturday, Sept. 12.
Cal Neva Gridiron Gold: Entry Fee: $250
All entry fees will be returned in this contest that asks you to make five selections a week against the spread. With an estimated 650 entries expected, $162,500 in cash would be available for the prize pool.
Most of the Cal Neva casinos are in the 26 Northern Nevada locations, but entries may be taken to Casino Valle Verde in Henderson near Sunset Station.
In addition to the high-end contests, the "one and done" or elimination contests have become very popular with players.
Station Casinos: Last Man Standing Entry fee: $25
Station sports books have made the college version of Last Man Standing and the pro version available at all Fiesta and Station properties. Both of these contests have been wildly popular in the Las Vegas Valley because all entry fees are returned to the winner and the volume of players has made the top prize very beefy, increasing each year since the contest began.
In both versions, you can buy four entries and get one free. Make one selection against the spread per week. If you win, you advance to the next week, until there is ultimately one contestant remaining.
An added bonus this season is an extra $100,000 dangling out there should someone happen to win both. It may seem like a tall task, but last season there was one player around Las Vegas that won several of the contests, so it can be done.
LeRoy’s Horse and Sports Place : Three-n-Out Entry fee: $25
This is an interesting King of the Hill type format that asks the contestant to make one selection a week playing pro games using either a side or a total. The concept is simple: keep picking winners and you advance to the following week; as a bonus, you get three losses until you’re out.
This is a very affordable contest that can actually stretch your $25 buy-in a long way in entertainment value. It’s also very convenient because LeRoy’s are everywhere in Nevada. All entry fees are returned and whoever is the final contestant without losing three times wins it all.
An added bonus is if you should be so unlucky to lose your first three weeks, it’s an automatic comp entry into the mid-season contest.
Finally, the bread-and-butter of the football contests are the "no spread" contests that simply require the player to pick the outright winners. These attract the most interest and create the largest crowds in the sports books.
Coast Resorts : Pick the Pro’s Football Contest: Entry fee: FREE!
What if I said there was a weekly contest offering $30,000 in prize money and there were eight locations across the Vegas Valley where you could sign up and turn in your weekly picks? That’s an easy sell, right? What if I added it was free? Would that be of interest?
That’s exactly what Coast Resorts is offering. They also give everyone who signs up three free entries. They don’t place any conditions on the free entry other than signing up for their players club card, which is free too.
If you already have a Coast Club players card, you can register at PickthePros.com which will also make you eligible for sweepstakes prizes available for only those online entries. During the season, you can also check the weekly winners to see if you rank with your selections. Sign-ups have already begun and there is no cut off date since the prizes are weekly. Over $500,000 in cash prizes are up for grabs. Did I mention it was free?
Station Casinos: Great Giveaway: Entry fee: $25
This staple of Las Vegas contests is a weekly no-points contest that is offering $1.4 million in cash prizes with weekly prizes and end of season prizes. As always, if you buy two entries, you get one free. Players who have points on their Boarding Pass card may also use them to purchase entries.
Continuing with the Great Giveaway’s long-time tradition, most wins for the season wins a house, or you can take $100,000.
The contest remains unique because you can also challenge for picking the most losers, which has a grand prize of $100,000.
The weekly prizes are $20,000 for the winners and $10,000 for the losers. For the winners, you have the option of taking a brand new Ford F150 pickup truck instead of the $20,000.
Palms - Pigskin Payoff: Entry Fee: $25
This contest has been attractive over the years because of the small pool of contestants, compared to the contests offered by the multi-property chains. If you buy three entries, the Palms will give you three more for free. In addition, if you sign up before September 3, you’ll be given $10 in slot play.
This is a no spread contest, just pick the winners for weekly prizes of $15,000 and $10,000 guaranteed to one winner. End of season prizes total $100,000. When comparing the overall prizes for all the no spread contests, the Palms prizes are pretty large.
Lucky’s Race and Sports Books Progressive Parlay Card
Last season, one of the more creative features a sports book offered was Lucky’s progressive parlay card, which begins at $6,000 and increases $6,000 each week until someone finally hits it. The big pay day finally came at Terrible’s in Las Vegas where the Lucky winner took home $48,000.
The parlay card is simple. All you have to do is sign up to be eligible for making an entry. It requires 16 selections being made with no point spread. Should you get all 16 games correct, you win the weekly progressive pool wherever it stands. The best part about the progressive format is that it is 100% FREE! It doesn’t get much cheaper than that, and the overlay is through the roof on this one.
"We got some great response from the players last year," said Lucky’s Sports Book Director Jimmy Vaccaro, "so we expanded upon that success and added a consolation prize this year for the players that come just short of going 16-0."
The progressive parlay cards come out every Tuesday and are available at all 12 Nevada Lucky’s locations spread throughout Laughlin, Primm, Las Vegas, Pahrump, Carson City, Reno, and Elko.