11/28/2013 4:07PM

Dave Tuley: Football contests provide excellent chance to boost winnings


LAS VEGAS – On Thanksgiving, in addition to family, friends, and my health (though that is slipping), one of the things I paused to be thankful for is handicapping contests.

Anyone who has followed this column since 2000 knows that I’m a huge advocate of the football contests here in Vegas (and all this applies to horse racing tournaments as well, but we’ll stick to football today) and encourage everyone to get involved whether it’s here or in office pools elsewhere. Contest play is a great way to maximize your profits when you’re having the day, weekend, or season of your life. Grinding away with your regular bets is great, but it’s those big payoffs that can make it worth all the effort.

For instance, the famous LVH SuperContest has a first-place prize of $542,850 this year for those picking five NFL games against the spread every week for the 17-week season.

If you were to have the season of your life and hit around 70 percent (let’s say you go 59-25-1 in the SuperContest), you would have to be betting nearly $20,000 per pick to end up with the same amount of profit as winning the SuperContest for the $1,500 entry fee, and you’d be buried in your bad years.

But the smaller contests pay well, too. Two weeks ago, I wrote of Caesar Espinosa of Las Vegas winning $10,000 as the William Hill College Pick’em champion from a $100 entry, and last week about Bob Martini of Reno taking home $109,290 on William Hill’s Pro Football Progressive Card, which cost $5 (not technically a contest, but run the same way as many office pools). Also a week ago, two unidentified players split the NFL Last Man Standing pool at Station Casinos (a survivor-type contest, picking one game against the spread each week). They both lost the same week and took home $46,562.50 apiece. Not bad for a $25 entry.

I’ve collected nearly $100,000 in contest winnings since I moved to Vegas in 1998. The biggest payoffs having been the $10,000 that I won in the Palms contest twice, $9,900 for finishing second in the Leroy’s Pro Challenge, $7,500 at the Hard Rock, $5,000 for another at the Hard Rock, $5,000 for another Leroy’s weekly contest win, $4,500 for finishing 14th in the 2008 SuperContest, $2,500 for sharing the SuperContest mini-contest one year, and many other smaller prizes that have added up over the years. No, that’s not all profit, as I’ve averaged about $2,500 a year in entries, but it’s a nice (if inconsistent) secondary income.

This is not being said to brag (okay, maybe a little), but the point is that anyone can get their share of the contest pie. Even this year, while I’m having my worst NFL season to date, I had a shot to sweep every contest in town last week. I had the Buccaneers (over the Lions), Jaguars (over the Texans) and Chargers (over Chiefs) on most of my contest cards in weekly contests at Stations, Coast Casinos, Palms, William Hill, and Aliante (my nearest local casino). If I had been able to connect the dots on all the other games (which I didn’t because I didn’t land on the Rams and Cardinals, instead going with the losing Bears and Colts), I would have won more than $40,000, plus a truck or car at Stations.

That would have really been something to be thankful for. But the fact is that you have to take those shots because you never know when it’s your lucky week, and ya gotta play to win.

Back to the betting board

Last week, I went 1-0 in the NCAA with Michigan covering as a 6-point underdog in its 3-point loss to Iowa, and 1-0 in the NFL with the Chargers not only covering as a 5-point underdog but beating the Chiefs outright, 41-38. Hopefully, I can build on that.

Clemson +5 vs. South Carolina

This opened offshore as South Carolina –6, and I was surprised it was so high. It has since been bet down to 5 as of this writing, but I think there’s value down to Clemson +4.5. Clemson is 10-1, while South Carolina is 9-2. South Carolina plays in the SEC, so its overall strength of schedule is tougher, but Clemson’s only game in which it was outgained was in its loss to Florida State, and there’s certainly no shame in that. South Carolina has lost to Tennessee (embarrassing) in addition to Georgia (not quite so bad), but also barely beat a down Florida team and was outgained by Mississippi State. Clemson has just been more consistent, and I think the Tigers are primed for the road upset. (Note: Clemson is 4-0 ATS away from home.)

PLAY: Clemson for 1 unit.

Texans +7.5 vs. Patriots

Yes, I know, the Texans are having a horrific season and they’re a league-worst 2-9 ATS. But they have too much talent on both sides of the ball to have this bad of a record, and we’re getting more than a touchdown with them at home. They’ve played some of their best football against their best competition, covering in a 17-16 loss to the Chiefs and having the Seahawks beat before letting that game slip away. They’re certainly capable of playing with the Patriots, who might be in a bit of a letdown spot after their rally from 24 points down to beat the Broncos 34-31 in overtime.

PLAY: Texans for 1 unit.

NCAA record: 7-5 for net profit of 1.5 units (based on risking 1.1 to win 1). NFL record: 8-12 for a net loss of 5.2 units.