Every Tuesday during the NFL regular season, Dave Tuley of ViewfromVegas.com will provide an update on the Hilton SuperContest.
LAS VEGAS -- I'm supposed to lead with a joke, right?
Duke tells his friend, Stan, that he's struggling and needs a couple hundred dollars to pay his rent. Stan gladly loans him the money, but is taken aback when he sees Duke at the sports book making a bet. "Hey, you told me you needed money for rent. How can you be gambling with that money?" Duke pulls out a money clip and says, "Here's the money you loaned me. I'm playing with my gambling money."
No one is claiming anymore that casinos are recession-proof, but it's that mentality that partly explains why the famous Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest -- which is considered the World Series of Poker equivalent for NFL handicappers -- set a record with 517 entries for this football season. After all the uncertainty about the NFL's lockout of the players -- and despite what else is going on in the world -- once the labor dispute was resolved July 25, people had their gambling money ready.
"It goes against everything you hear about in today's economic climate," says Jay Kornegay, the Las Vegas Hilton's vice president of race and sports operations. "Unemployment is high, foreclosures are happening all around us, but, hey, our football contest set an all-time record!"
For the uninitiated, the Hilton SuperContest has a $1,500 entry fee and players make five plays a week against the spread by 11 a.m. PT on Saturday. Wins are worth one point, with pushes counting as one-half. The champion wins 40 percent of the prize pool and it pays to the top 20. In 1989, Art Manteris, the sports book director at the time, borrowed from the format of a contest at the Castaways (which was razed in the mid-80s to make way for the Mirage Hotel & Casino) and created the SuperContest. Though competitors have come and gone, the SuperContest remains the most coveted title in town each football season.
The previous record was 505 entrants set back in 2005. The number dipped to 416 the next year and has been in the 300s the past four years, with 345 entering last year. The 517 who ponied up their dough represented a whopping 49 percent increase.
"We were hoping for 400 this year," Kornegay said. "I was surprised we passed that number when we had 413 enter by the early-bird deadline [those registering by 4 p.m. on Sept. 5 became eligible for a free mini-contest that awards $10,000 for the best record over the last three weeks of the season]. I just figured most people decided to enter early for that bonus, but we still had more than 100 after that."
Kornegay also credits the increase to exposure received last year, when ESPN.com's very own Bill Simmons and Chad Millman chronicled their maiden attempts in the SuperContest in their columns and on Twitter.
"Those guys introduced our contest to a whole new demographic," Kornegay said. "For years, we'd see the same faces, but this year we're seeing a lot of young blood."
Young and old will be competing for a lot more money this year. First prize will be $310,200 (plus $10,000 if the champ can exceed 67 percent winners) compared to the $207,000 won by Richard Stand last year, though he ended up making close to $300,000 when you factor in the hedge bets he hit in Week 17, as chronicled in this Chad Millman blog. The prize for those finishing 11th through 20th will be $7,750.50 apiece, compared to the $5,175 that Simmons won for finishing tied for 15th last year.
Where the money is going in Week 2
Even though the official contest lines don't come out until Wednesday, the Hilton posts its openers around 4:30 p.m. Sunday so we can usually see what the wise guys have been betting early and possibly project what the popular trends will be for the coming weekend.