Finding the Right Football Contest
by Josh Nagel - 08/27/2008
It's that time of the year when every football fan, no matter how passionate, is looking to book some action for the upcoming season. Some play free fantasy football for the pure entertainment value, or throw down a few bucks at the weekly NFL office pool.
At the other end of the spectrum, this is the season for hardcore gamblers to spend hours on end scouring the pre-season magazines and sports information Web sites, desperately gleaning any information that can give them an edge against the oddsmakers. These types gamble much more for business than pleasure, and there are plenty of them out there.
Naturally, most football bettors tend to fall somewhere between those two extremes. For those who fit this category, there is no shortage of football contests, offered both online and in live sports books, to satisfy the high demand for action during the football season.
The most popular form of football contest is the low buy-in, straight-up winners variety in which competitors select the winner of each game without using the pointspread. These contests usually offer an entry fee as low as $20 and draw no shortage of takers, many of whom gobble up multiple entries to better their chances against the large fields.
But for those who prefer the art of betting against the pointspread, there hadn't been much in the way of a season-long competition … until now. Sports books in Nevada are starting to realize that the lack of pointspread-based contests was a gap in their football offerings that needed to be filled.
Accordingly, they are doing something about it. The Reno-based Club Cal Neva, one of Nevada's largest sports book operations with satellite locations statewide, this year is introducing the Gridiron Gold contest. For a $250 entry fee, participants select five NFL games against the pointspread each week. The player with the best won-loss record ATS for the season wins 50 percent of the prize pool, and other top finishers receive cash prizes or entries into next year's contest. If the contest reaches its 650-player capacity, the first-place finisher will win $81,250.
"Sign-ups have been pretty brisk," said Nick Bogdanovich, director of the race and sports book at the Cal Neva. "This contest really appeals to the more advanced handicapper."
Bogdanovich knows a thing or two about advanced handicapping. In addition to helping set the daily line at Cal Neva, he is an accomplished sports bettor who has fared well in some high buy-in, high-profile handicapping contests. Last year, he took first place in the winner-take-all, $5,000 buy-in "Put Up or Shut Up" contest offered by Leroy's sports books. The competition pitted 32 bettors against each other in a single-elimination, NCAA-Tournament type format. Las Vegas-based Leroy's also offers $250 buy-in ATS contests for the NFL and college football.
Bogdanovich's advice for those considering an ATS is pretty straightforward … in short, you had better know what you're doing.
"You've got to pick winners, end of story," he said. "You have to consistently show a winning record to win a contest like this."
Bogdanovich predicted that the winner of the Gridiron Gold would likely have approximately 65 percent correct picks, a record of 55-30 or thereabouts is probably good enough for the top prize, or at least a high finish.
But for those who aren't interested in all that pointspread business, fret not. There are still plenty of the straight-up contests available that many football enthusiasts prefer. The Cal Neva has a Pro Pick'em contest for $25 and a College Pick'em for $20, and players can get an entry in both for $35. Each competition involves picking winners without using the pointspread.
"These straight-up contests are tailor-made for the casual sports fan … they love it," Bogdanovich said.
Although the straight-up contests appear easier on the surface, there are a few factors to keep in mind. For one, several players tend to buy multiple entries and., even though most sports books enforce a maximum per player, it's easy to find ways around the rules. Some determined participants will have their relatives or friends - the non-football fan variety - sign up for the maximum number of entries and compete under their names.
So while your entry certainly buys you action for the season, be realistic about your chances of winning. While you are turning in one or two weekly entries, it's feasible the guy next to you at the sports book is filling out 50 entries per week. Of course, the more entries one has at his disposal, the better the chances of coming up with the elusive combination of winners for the week.
Bogdanovich recommends that even casual bettors should buy at least a few entries in the straight-up competitions. This allows them to form a core of their favorite picks for the week, while varying the toss-up games on multiple cards. This will give someone who is a decent straight-up handicapper a fighting chance against the massive fields.