For sports bettors who specialize in NFL football, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest is styled quite similarly to the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Both events take place annually in Sin City, attracting a healthy mix of professionals and amateurs alike, and for a relatively small entry fee, a player’s skill and hard work – combined with a little luck – can lead to life-changing six-figure scores.
And while the WSOP had its moment in the sun thanks to accountant Chris Moneymaker’s improbable Main Event victory back in 2003, the sports betting sector is hoping a barista’s big win in the SuperContest creates a similar “boom.”
When the last Week 17 game went final to conclude the NFL’s regular season, 32-year-old Starbucks worker and Las Vegas resident Damon Graham put the finishing touches on a 5-0 week picking against the spread (ATS). It was no fluke, as Graham’s entry “Pops2008” had gone 13-2 ATS over the last three weeks of the SuperContest.
When the final standings were tallied up, the “Pops2008” ticket stood atop the massive field of 1,854 entries with a 54-28-3 overall ATS record. For guiding his entry – one of two he had in the field – to the finish line sporting the season’s top record, Graham earned the first-prize payout of $895,482.
Since 2004, the SuperContest has invited football fans and casual bettors to join the fabled Las Vegas “wiseguys” – or professional handicappers – in a season-long competition picking ATS. Each entry must submit five picks for the upcoming week’s game, using lines generated by the Westgate sportsbook – which bills itself as the largest such venue in the world. By season’s end, a small percentage of the field (top-50 this year) earns a “cash,” with payouts ranging from double the buy-in to huge six-figure sums.
In the past, professional punters like the famed Steven Fezzik (2008 and 2009) have dominated the proceedings, but this year the amateurs made their mark.
Graham, a Maryland transplant living in Las Vegas since 2008, put the maximum of two entries into the field, and his “main” entry also managed to finish tied for 40th-place – good for another $2,217.38 in winnings. On top of that, by virtue of that aforementioned 13-2 run over the last three weeks, Graham’s winning entry also won the Mini-Contest title for another $10,000.
Week 17’s unpredictable slate of games, along with having a pair of entries tied for fourth place at the time, put Graham in a tricky spot when assessing his picks. In the end, he decided on Texans (+3) @ Titans, Bills (-3.5) @ Jets, Ravens (+2) at Bengals, Cowboys (+4) at Eagles, and Dolphins (+9.5) at Patriots for his primary entry.
On the “Pops2008” card, Graham simply went with the five opposite picks in an attempt to maximize his expected value. When the whistle blew on Sunday’s early games, Graham’s actual picks went 0-5, vaulting the “Pops2008” ticket to the top of the standings with a 5-0 finish.
Speaking with ESPN Chalk, Graham found humor in the fact that picking incorrectly propelled him to nearly a million dollars in winnings:
“I’ve never been happier to be wrong about anything in my whole life.”
The SuperContest field set a record this year with 1,854 entries, topping last year’s mark of 1,727. In 2010, the SuperContest drew just 345 entries, with the field expanding significantly every year since.