08/18/2011 3:09PM

Football contests provide players their best chance to maximize profits


No one really likes standing in line, but there’s one group here in Las Vegas that isn’t minding it as much this year: football contest players.

It sure beats the alternative, which would have been no pro football season if the NFL owners’ lockout of the players hadn’t been resolved.

As the stand-off continued well into July, many sports books delayed releasing their football contest rules for fear that they would have to include contingency plays for a shortened season. When an agreement was reached July 25, the Las Vegas Hilton announced it would start accepting entries on Aug. 1 and it was business as usual – for the most part.

MORE: Full list of Nevada football contests »

We did see two casualties as the South Point decided not to hold its $2,500 buy-in Friendly Frank’s Football Challenge and the Wynn Las Vegas pulled the plug on its $100 buy-in Pro Football Survivor Contest after just one season.

The South Point’s cancellation left the Hilton and Cantor Gaming as the two truly high-end contests in town. The Hilton SuperContest is the granddaddy of them all (though it owes its ancestry to the old Castaways motel on the Strip, where the Mirage now stands) with its $1,500 entry fee and consistent format of having players pick five NFL games against the spread each week against lines that are set earlier in the week. There are two changes to the rules this year, however. In the past, contest lines were released on Tuesday afternoon but that has been moved to Wednesday this year to allow organizers to use more solid lines (especially when it comes to injuries). That also helps with the second rule change which says that games must take place by Tuesday night to be official. The previous rule mandated that games had to be played by Monday night, but last December the NFL moved the Vikings-Eagles game to a Tuesday night and it wasn’t counted in the contest (and also messed up the following week’s lines when the Vikings upset the Eagles as 17-point underdogs).

A big change also happened with Cantor’s 2011 Football Contest. Last year, the entry fee was $100,000 but they only attracted a field of seven, so this year the entry fee has been lowered to $10,000. Cantor Gaming is headquartered at the M Resort on the south end of town, but it has also taken over the operations of the books at the Hard Rock, Tropicana, and Cosmopolitan. The Venetian and Palazzo are expected to come on-line by Sept. 1, but as of press time it wasn’t certain if they would be included in the Cantor contest. Players in that contest are required to put their weekly picks at the casino where they register.

The Wynn’s cancellation leaves the $25 buy-in Last Man Standing contests at the Station Casinos (networked along with the Fiesta Casinos, Wildfire Casinos, and the El Cortez downtown) as the only old-school, survivor-type offerings. While the Wynn contest was a straight-up win-and-stay-alive format, the LMS contests are against the spread. There are separate contests for college and pro, though Stations will pay a $100,000 bonus if someone wins both.

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The Leroy’s family of books, which operates as a hub for smaller books throughout the state and also has self-serve kiosks (to further eliminate lines at the counter) offers the $25 buy-in Three N Out contest, which is a survivor-type format with players making a pick each week against the spread, but as the name implies, you stay alive until you have three losses.

Leroy’s also returns with its popular $250 buy-in Pro Challenge and College Challenge for those on a smaller budget or those looking to diversify their contest portfolio with more entries. The College Challenge is the biggest NCAA football contest offered at this time. There had been speculation that maybe this was the year for someone to offer a high-end college contest in case the NFL didn’t play this year, but no one stepped up.

People ask me all the time why I’m such a huge proponent of football contests as I go on radio shows to talk about them and am scheduled to speak at the free VegasInsider.com Football Seminar at the Red Rock on Aug. 27-28. But what’s not to like? It’s fun to compete against other handicappers, plus it gives you the chance to maximize your winning seasons. Let’s say you bet an average of $1,100 on five NFL games a week and go 56-27-2 (67 percent), you would make a profit of around $26,000. But for less than $100 a week, you could pony up the $1,500 SuperContest entry fee and win closer to $260,000.

It’s the same way with the smaller straight-up contests around town. They’re similar to office pools that are run all over the country, but in what office can you invest $25 for the whole season and be playing to win your choice of $100,000 or a new house? That chance is available at the Station Casinos and its affiliated sports books, and they also offer a $20,000 weekly prize for the most winners (or you can shoot for the $10,000 prize for most losers). Stations also has an offer that if you play all 17 weeks, you get your entry fee back. Obviously, these contests are aimed at locals, but the prizes are lucrative enough that I think it’s worth it for visitors to enter when they come to town.

The Palms has a $10,000 weekly prize (which I have won twice, so it’s a personal favorite of mine) with much fewer contestants because it is held at a single property.

Boyd Gaming, including its Coast Casinos properties, makes it even affordable with its free Pick the Pros contest offering $30,000 in weekly prizes, including a guaranteed $10,000 to a single winner.

So, join me in the pools.