Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 | 2 a.m.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. There had to be a mistake.
A poster hung in the sports book at this local casino congratulating the winner of its NFL pick ’em contest, in which patrons paid $25 to select games each week of the regular season with no point spread. Winners could pocket up to $30,000 each week, or six figures for the overall winner at the end of the year.
The champ wasn’t someone I expected — it was an elderly woman, someone who is usually stationed at the penny slot machines at the casino, not a handicapping specialist cashing for thousands at the sports book.
My confidence was rattled. I couldn’t figure out what this woman, someone I couldn’t imagine having more sports knowledge than I, knew that I didn’t.
It was my first year playing, and I was naive as to how some gamblers approached the contest. That all changed the following year.
I went one late evening to turn in my contest and found another competitor filling out his card. And about 200 others.
That’s when the light went on.
Contest rules stated the maximum was five entries per person. Some gamblers skirt the system by having associates — such as friends or family members — enter to give them more cracks at winning.
I was disgusted and thought I was being cheated. This man’s seemingly unlimited stack of entries had a better chance of beating my single entry.
I was done with the contest, concluding that wasting my money in a no-win scenario wasn’t worth the risk or the entertainment value.
That was about 15 years ago. I haven’t missed a season.
Doing the weekly pick ’em is a rite of passage each fall I would be lost without. For $25, it’s a great way to add excitement to Sunday, knowing you have a chance to win thousands in a weekly prize — even if it’s a long shot.
And, if you win, sometimes the prize isn’t much. A few years back, I was one of hundreds with an undefeated card, pocketing about $30 for the seemingly impossible feat of going perfect. In most contests, the points scored in the Monday night game is the tiebreaker, with one entry winning thousands and other splitting the remaining prize money.
I’ve also cashed for $1,000 for finishing in the top five overall in Boyd Gaming’s contest before they made it free (I miss the old format of Pick the Pros). A few years later, I won $500 in a drawing for contest participants during Monday Night Football at the Palms, which is a single-property contest and advertises that patrons have a smaller pool of entries to compete against.
I’ve also cashed for $250 at the end of the year at Station Casinos, where if you buy three entries for $50, they load your players card with $50 worth of slot play at the end of the season if you don’t cash in the contest while playing every week.
The contests each have a different format, payout and entry prize. Here’s a link to my colleague Case Keefer’s listing of some Las Vegas contests.
It’s too bad a contest with this format isn’t part of the list:
Similar to most pick ’em challenges already in existence, my version would be selecting NFL winners with no point spread. But, in an attempt to discourage those with too many entries, participants would accompany selections with a confidence point — 15 for the game they feel most strongly about in a week of 15 games; 1 for the game they are least confident in.
Gone would be the days of 300 undefeated cards on some weeks, which makes the accomplishment of going undefeated seem cheapened because of the slim payout. The weekly winner would be determined by the most points, not most wins. That means participants could lose games and still take the weekly prize — pretty cool, right? And, instead of overall records, the end-of-the-year prize would also be based on confidence points.
Even with the confidence-points addition, I still probably wouldn’t win. But, that’s just fine. It’s a few dollars each week to play in the contest and well worth the entertainment value.
And, who knows? The winner fueling my outrage years ago could have been a senior citizen with off-the-charts football knowledge. That’s what makes football season so fun — there are ways for everyone to get a piece of the action.