Prestigious LVH SUPERCONTEST Expands
Sponsors ‘Capping Seminar and Golf Tournament
by Buzz Daly
The popularity of football contests, you know the serious ones with entry fees, prestige, and big-money payouts, is a pretty good indicator of what kind of season area sports books might have in store. Based on encouraging early returns from the granddaddy of high-stakes contests, it appears handicappers have found their mojo, and their wallets, again this football season.
The LVH Supercontest, formerly known as the Las Vegas Hilton Supercontest, is coming off a record year in which it attracted 517 entries, with the winner pocketing over $310,000 in prize money. The 2012 event is estimated to exceed 600 contestants and the overall payouts to the winners could top $800,000, according to LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay.
“This year we have 180 entries compared with 103 at the same time last year,” said Kornegay. “Perhaps it’s a sign that the economy is coming back, or of the growing influence of social media. This is the contest everyone wants to win.” Kornegay was so encouraged by last year’s record field, which dramatically exceeded the field of 350 to 400 players the contest has drawn annually for the past 20 years, he felt it was time to take the Supercontest to a new level.
After brainstorming and trading ideas with Brady Kannon, one member of last year’s championship team of four, Kornegay said the notion of a golf tournament was being considered. Then the idea just blossomed into the concept of an entire kickoff weekend centered on the Supercontest. As a result, a free Friday night handicapping seminar and a Saturday golf tournament were held in late August.
The handicapping seminar drew a full ballroom of bettors eager to get tips and insight from high-powered pro handicappers and media members. The panels were composed of a literal “who’s who” of sports betting experts and covered three primary topics:
- College football: Dave Cokin, Bruce Marshall, Matt Youmans, Kenny White;
- Pro football: Marc Lawrence, Ted Sevransky, JT the Brick; and
- Sports media and the Super Contest: Steve Fezzik, Brady Kannon, Chad Millman.
Kornegay, known as one of the more innovative bet barons within the sports betting industry, noted that the Supercontest was the most prestigious football competition anywhere, and it has endured, while other contests have come and gone. He was quick to credit the originators, Art Manteris and Chuck Esposito, for creating a contest in 1987 that attracts entrants not only for the prizes, but for the bragging rights, which are priceless.
The contest, with its $1,500 buy-in, requires bettors to pick five games against the point spread for all 17 weeks of the NFL season. Its influence reaches far beyond the number of contestants who enter. Generally, high-end contests do not draw enough additional foot traffic to justify their expense. However, the Supercontest, which publicly posts all the selections well before kickoff, draws throngs of bettors to the sports book seeking guidance from folks who are picking winners in the 60-65 percent range. Recently, the picks have been posted on the Internet, but the LVH Superbook still draws lots of punters who check out the picks in person.
Based on the large turnout of participants and ‘cappers, the inaugural Supercontest Weekend was a huge success. According to Kornegay, it’s likely to become an annual event.
It should be noted that LVH has been described in the press as “financially troubled,” and a foreclosure sale of the property is scheduled for November. Although Kornegay is in no position to guarantee the continued viability of the contest, he expressed confidence in the property’s proposed new ownership. Kornegay expects the hotel-casino to continue operating as usual and looks forward to many more Supercontests.
In the meantime, as a counterpoint to all the success enjoyed by the LVH event, the number of football contests in Las Vegas has dwindled in recent years. Apparently the economics have changed and the return on investment no longer justifies the cost of administering some contests. High-end contests in particular are vulnerable. For example, Cantor Gaming initiated a high-stakes competition two years ago. With a $100,000 sign-up fee, it drew only seven entries. Last year, Cantor dropped the entry fee to $10,000 and attracted only 15 contestants. This season that contest is no longer offered. Marketing support for the contest was lukewarm at best, and its demise isn’t a shock.
Other defunct high-end football contests of recent vintage include Friendly Frank’s at the South Point, which had a $2,500 buy-in; and The Challenge, a $1,000 entry-fee contest administered by Station Casinos.
Throughout football season, visitors and locals alike can still choose from various low- or no-fee, no-point contests run by the larger “locals casinos.” These tend to feature weekly winners. However, garnering a big payday for being among the weekly winners in a contest with thousands of others isn’t very likely. Prize money is frequently divided among countless players, and a payoff of $24.61 per person for example is not uncommon.
Legal Sports Betting in New Jersey, Still a Work in Progress
As New Jersey sports bettors look down the dizzying, circuitous path that eventually, ideally, ends in a cul-de-sac, where a full-service sports book is taking legal bets on sporting events, they are both bewildered and angry. Despite passage earlier this year of state legislation that would enable sports betting, and several polls which overwhelmingly indicate voters’ support for it within the state, there is still no sign that it will happen any time soon.
New Jersey has dragged its feet on issuing betting licenses that would at least get the ball rolling. Now, in its most recent action, state attorneys decreed that no licenses would be issued before December 1. Moreover, they promised the state would give the federal court, which is the jurisdiction for a lawsuit by pro sports leagues trying to stop the process, and the leagues 30 days’ notice before issuing any such licenses.
The latest action by the professional sports leagues was to seek an injunction against New Jersey’s attempt to implement legal sports betting. A federal ban has been in place since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) was enacted in 1992.
The state senator who has been the prime mover in the push for legal sports wagering remains optimistic. State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D) still expects to see sports betting at the state’s casinos and race tracks sometime this year. He believes the court will not attempt to interfere with the state’s sports books until after deciding the case on its merits. However, that process could take six months or more.
Citing the public’s backing for sports betting, Lesniak said, “I expect that support to continue throughout our fight to overturn the federal ban.” Under the state bill, wagering on single games at Atlantic City casinos and the state’s four major race tracks would be allowed.
Although not an early advocate for the movement, Republican Governor Chris Christie has taken up the cause and become a feisty leader of the crusade on behalf of sports bettors. If Mitt Romney is elected President in November, Christie might expect federal help, or at least a minimum of federal objections, to New Jersey’s plans. Traditionally, however, the GOP and its strong conservative majority, has not looked favorably upon any gambling initiatives.
Overturning federal laws is an undertaking that requires fierce determination and commitment. New Jersey could be on the cusp of setting a significant precedent that kick starts a wave of sports betting across the United States. Or it could merely become a graveyard for the dashed hopes of sports bettors.
Perhaps a legal bet shop in the U.K., or some other progressive country where betting is not considered an unlawful vice, will post odds on the success or failure of New Jersey and its citizens. Those bookmakers have a pretty impressive record on forecasting the outcome of such events.