Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 | 2 a.m.
He won nearly $1 million in Las Vegas’ most famous sports-betting contest. Yet, to collect his winnings at the Westgate Las Vegas after the 2016 NFL season, this Starbucks barista had to take the city bus.
The Westgate SuperContest, a $1,500 buy-in contest that attracts professional handicappers and amateurs alike, is on pace this season to establish a record for participants. Many will be recreational players like the Starbucks worker, or the farmer from Illinois who recently took second.
Through Thursday, there have been 2,075 entries — or about 300 more than at this juncture in 2017 when a contest-best 2,748 signed up. The deadline is 11 a.m. Sept. 8; the early-bird deadline is 4 p.m. Monday.
This reason for the spike is simple, says Jay Kornegay, the vice president of race and sports operations at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.
“A lot of first-time contestants win the championship. You don’t have to be a highly skilled player,” Kornegay said. “If you put together a good year, you can be a millionaire. It’s life-changing money.”
Kornegay remembers when in 2005 they established a record with 505 entries. But with a massive advertising push, social media and word of mouth, it’s become a local rite of passage each NFL season. Contestants make five selections weekly against the point spread, receiving one contest point for covering the spread and a half-point for a push.
The winner gets 33 percent of the entry money, which projects to be more than $1.5 million this season, Kornegay said. The top 100 finishers get paid.
“The more people are finding out, the more people have entered,” Kornegay said.
The early-bird registration gives participants entry into the mini-contest, where the contestant with the best record over the final three weeks of the NFL season is paid $15,000. All contestants are eligible for a pair of side bonuses — $15,000 for having the best record over the first four weeks, and $15,000 for having the best record at the season’s midway point of Week 8.
About 65 percent of the participants are from out of state, making their selections each week using a proxy service. Kornegay expects more Southern Nevadans to enter for the 2019 season when the mobile technology is in place to make the weekly selection through a smartphone, thus eliminating weekly trips to the book.
There’s also the winner-take-all SuperContest Gold for a $5,000 entry fee. That contest is in its second year and also on pace to break last year’s entry field, when there were 94 contestants. There are already 77 entries, whereas last year at this time there were only 52.
If registration continues at the same pace as last year, Kornegay projects the gold contest will pay $650,000 to the winner.
Kornegay stresses that anyone can win either of the contests, which is part of the fun.
“When you see the results from the last few years, you want to take a shot at it,” he said. “... You certainly have to have some luck and things go your way.”