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12 September 2016
By Gary Trask
While was he was both proud and gratified to get official word last week that the renowned Football SuperContest at Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino would break its own participation record, Jay Kornegay was not surprised.
In fact, as far as the veteran vice president of race and sports operations is concerned, the best is yet to come.
The annual football handicapping challenge, where participants pick five NFL games each week of the regular season against the spread, is the most widely known and most prestigious of its kind in the country. This year it drew an all-time high for the seventh straight season, with 1,854 football-crazed fans and handicappers plopping down the $1,500 entry for a chance to win the near-$1 million grand prize.
"We're talking about football, which is, by far, the most popular sport to bet on, during a time when sports betting is growing and growing with every year, so the sky really is the limit," Kornegay told Casino City after the record was officially broken on Thursday of last week. "I keep telling people not to let the number of entries scare you away because it's only going to keep going up. Someday we'll look back and say, 'Remember when I had to beat only 2,000 people to win this thing?'"
Kornegay was laughing when he made his point, but he's not kidding. When the contest launched in 1988 as the Hilton SuperContest (the Westgate sits on the same site as the former Las Vegas Hilton), it was considered a locals-only event. It remained that way over the years and continued when Kornegay came to the Hilton from the now-defunct Imperial Palace, now home to The Linq Hotel & Casino, in 2004.
From 2004 to 2010, the average number of contestants was around 386, with a high of 505 in 2005. In 2011, the number increased to 517 and continued to surge each year, jumping to 745 in 2012, 1,034 in 2013, 1,403 in 2014 and 1,727 last year.
As participation has mushroomed, so has the prize pool and the challenge of finishing in the top 50 spots and cashing. In 2004, there was a three-way tie for first place, with each champion pocketing $131,520. Last year's champ, a group calling itself "rounding again," won $906,675.
Two years ago, the winning team, "CH Ballers," set the record with 64.5 points (one point for every winning selection and a half point for every "push"), meaning it hit an astounding 76% of its selections, going 64-20-1. The previous high of 60.5 points and 58-22-5 record (73%) came in 2011 by a team called "Sans Souci." By contrast, the 2004 winner hit 62% of its selections with 52.5 points.
While the top 50 finishers are awarded a cash prize (last year the 20 people that tied for 50th were paid $6,044 each), there are other ways to win. There is a 67% Aggregate Bonus where any participants that hit 67% or better of their selections spilt a $20,000 prize. There is also a "mini contest" where players who enter the SuperContest before a certain date (usually early September) qualify to win a $20,000 prize given to the team with the best record in the final three weeks of the season.
Kornegay attributes the contest's astounding growth to a number of factors, including social media, the popularity of sports betting in general and its acceptance by the mainstream media.
"The black cloud and stigma that has kind of hovered over sports betting during the last 10 years or so is disappearing," said Kornegay, who oversaw the Westgate SuperBook's massive renovation last year, which included the installation of a 220-foot-long, 18-foot-high video wall, the largest of its kind in the world. "It's more generally accepted in today's society, and therefore a contest like ours is going to grow as that happens.
"A lot of people compare it to what's happened to the World Series of Poker and their Main Event, and it's a good comparison, both from a numbers and popularity standpoint."
While participants must sign up for the contest and pay the entry fee in person at the Westgate at the start of the season, many use a proxy service to submit their picks each week, allowing out-of-state residents to play. Kornegay estimates that nearly 50% of all entrants last year used a proxy service.
He said his team is already working to get the requirement of having to make the picks in person lifted and allowing participants to make their selections online, a development that would most certainly multiply the number of entrants at an even more rapid pace.
"It's a ways off, but it's something we'd like to see happen," he said. "There's a lot that goes into it. Every time we make any kind of tweak to the contest, we have to run it by the Nevada regulators, the attorneys and compliance. Nothing can be done without their approval."
The challenge of running the contest has also increased for Kornegay and his staff, to the point where this year for the first time there will be an 8% takeout from the prize pool. In years past, 100% of the pool went back to the contestants.
Kornegay knew there would be pushback, but he saw no other option.
"We could no longer run the SuperContest as a loss leader, and that's what it was," he said. "It's different when you have 300 or 400 people in it. But now we're close to 2,000. Like any business, we had to look at all the time and resources we were putting into it and make sure it was worth our while.
"I wish the people that did complain about it really knew what goes into running this. Not only do we have the people at the front end accepting registrations and taking picks and answering questions, but we have attorneys and compliance to deal with. We have a $40,000 marketing budget. We have the $20,000 67% bonus. As the contest grows, so do the expenses, but it's to the benefit to everyone involved."
Brady Kannon has participated in the contest for the last 14 years and understands Kornegay's dilemma. Kannon was part of the four-man "Sans Souci" team that won it with a record-breaking performance in 2011 and has seen first-hand how the contest has changed in six short years.
"It's tough because you could hit 60% now and not even make it in the money, and as anyone knows, it's incredibly difficult to hit that kind of percentage," said the 47-year-old Kannon, the general manager of LVTeeTimes.com. Back in 2012, he helped Kornegay create the Annual SuperContest Weekend, which is held in late August every year and kicks off the season with a golf tournament at football handicapping seminars.
"Nowadays, you really have to hit around 65% to finish in the money. So while that’s a little bit frustrating, it's reality. The contest has become a big thing all across the country; the biggest of its kind. And that makes it a lot of fun to be a part of, and it makes for a bigger pot of gold in the end. And that's really what we're all shooting for, so how can anyone complain?"
Westgate Las Vegas Football SuperContest continues to flourish is republished from CasinoVendors.com.
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