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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

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DraftKings Sportsbook launches first multi-state football contest

14 Aug 2020

By Gary Trask
Football contests have been a wildly popular draw at Nevada sportsbooks for decades. The Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino's SuperBook’s SuperContest has set the gold standard, annually breaking its own record for entrants and prize pools, including new highs last year when 3,328 contestants vied for a share of more than $4.5 million.

This year, DraftKings Sportsbook is jumping into the game, taking full advantage of its mobile capabilities and the proliferation of regulated sports betting across the U.S. by launching the first paid football pool where players can compete across state lines.

The new Pro Football Pick’em Championship, featuring a guaranteed $2 million prize pool, is now accepting entrants who register in New Hampshire and New Jersey, and according to DraftKings Head of Race and Sportsbook Operations, Johnny Avello, another three to five states could be added to the mix by the time the NFL (hopefully) kicks off next month since DraftKings is operational in six other states (West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado and Illinois).

“It’s exciting because this is the first football contest of its kind,” Avello said earlier this week on the same day DraftKings unveiled the first retail sportsbook in New Hampshire at The Brook, just over the Massachusetts border. “We want to make it as big as we can. We're starting with a $2 million prize pool, but depending on what happens in the next few weeks, the prize pool could very well grow.”

The concept of the new contest is similar to the Westgate’s format. The entry fee is $1,500 and players pick five NFL games against the spread each week. The contestant with the most wins at the end of the season takes home the top prize. IT AINT BREEZY prevailed in the SuperContest last year after going 58-25-2 (69.8%), hauling in a record $1,469.644.80.

“There actually was some talk about making the entry fee less than $1,500, but in the end we felt like $1,500 was the right number,” Avello said. “I did quite a bit of research and what we found from people that have played in contests before is that this was the right number. They didn't like a number that was lower and they didn't care for a number too much higher. So the price point is exactly where it needs to be right now.”

The new Circa Sportsbook in Nevada introduced a contest of its own last year with an entry fee of $1,000 and the Golden Nugget - Las Vegas has also run a football contest for years that has drawn big fields.

The DraftKings contest will differ from those in Nevada in a number of ways.

First and foremost, as mentioned, it is allowing contestants from multiple states to compete. For the other contests, players must register in Nevada and then make their picks either physically at the sportsbook or online while within state boundaries. For players that reside out of state, proxy services are often utilized. That’s when players pay a service located in Nevada to make their picks for them each week after they take part in the original registration process.

“Those proxy services can eat into your profits because if you cash, you have to give them a percentage,” Avello said. “With no proxy service needed, our players will keep 100% of their winnings.”

Avello wouldn’t venture to guess how many entrants he expects for the DraftKings contest, but is hopeful New York City’s proximity to New Jersey and Boston’s proximity to New Hampshire will help draw from those huge betting markets. Either way, first place in the DraftKings contest will win 50% of the prize pool, with a minimum prize of $1 million. Second place will take home 12.5% of the pool, with a minimum prize of $250,000. Third place claims 6.25% of the pool, with a minimum prize of $125,000. Overall, the top 50 contestants will cash, with 36th through 50th taking home 0.125 percent of the pool, a minimum of $2,500.

Avello also told us about three other “player-friendly” rules for the DraftKings contest:

No Week 17: The DraftKings contest will end after Week 16, avoiding the final week of the regular season when many times teams rest players and/or don’t have motivation to play because playoff seedings have already been decided.

Bye weeks: Players must pick two “bye” weeks in which they do not make selections. “Not every player is comfortable playing every week,” explained Avello. “I think most players will look at the schedule before the season and have a strategy regarding when the bye week will be used.”

Free $100 bet: Any time a player goes a perfect 5-0 in a single week, DraftKings will reward the feat with a free $100 bet. “This way, if you’re not doing so great in the contest overall, you always have a chance to win that $100 free bet,” Avello added.

Later pick deadline: The deadline for the Nevada contests is usually Saturday night and if players want to use the Thursday Night Football game they must submit all five picks for the week on Thursday. DraftKings is providing much more flexibility. The pick deadline will be just before game time on Sunday and if players want to use a game that’s played before Sunday they can do so without having to submit all five picks for the week. The spreads for each week’s games will be released on Tuesday. “Having that late deadline will be crucial because with COVID-19 there could very well be some wild swings in the pointspreads by the time the games kick off on Sunday,” Avello said. “I would think most will wait until the last minute to make their picks so they can see who’s in and who’s out.”

Speaking of COVID-19, Avello said DraftKings is well aware of the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of the NFL actually playing a full season. The contest will not be official unless the teams play at least 12 weeks. If they don’t, all entry fees will be refunded.

“We’re hopeful we’re going to have another exciting NFL season and that nothing will be affected,” Avello said. “If that happens, this contest is going to add a lot of excitement to the season for a lot of people.”
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