Gamblino deal expands SuperContest

There's a new way to join the famous SuperContest for free. AP Photo/Britta Pedersen

LAS VEGAS -- The Westgate Las Vegas drew a record 1,403 entrants at $1,500 apiece for its famous SuperContest this past football season. But Jay Kornegay, Westgate's vice president of race and sportsbook operations, thinks it can draw a lot more entries and make the contest even more famous.

One of the first steps toward that goal was announced Monday, with the launch of the SuperContest Satellite Series -- where contestants can play in free contests to earn the SuperContest entry fee -- on the Gamblino app on iPhones with a wait list for the Android app expected in April.

The SuperContest started at the Las Vegas Hilton in the late 1980s. For the first two decades it was the playground of local wiseguys and their friends around the country who knew you could use a local proxy to submit weekly selections. The number of entries grew to 505 in 2005. But when the recession hit, it shortly dropped back into the 300s. Starting in 2011, the SuperContest exploded in popularity as it was publicized through various outlets on social media and ESPN. Entries grew to 517 in 2011, 745 in 2012 and 1,034 in 2013 before leaping to last year's 1,403 (a more detailed recap can be found in my first Tuesdays With Tuley column in September).

The recent growth has been compared to the World Series of Poker's boom from a decade ago.

"We've been looking a long time at how the World Series of Poker grew, and one of those was through their series of satellite tournaments where people buy in for a small amount to earn their entry fee," Kornegay said. "Fifteen hundred dollars is still a lot for some people to enter a contest, so this gives them a free and easy way to take a shot."

Frank Wilson founded gamblino.com and the Gamblino app in 2012. The app is free, and while people can see the odds on all the games, there's no actual betting, so it's legal in all states. Players can make mythical bets to test their skill or enter contests. Kornegay said Wilson approached him last year and that they have had a lot of conversations to work out the details leading up to this week's announcement.

The first SuperContest Satellite will be the March to the Championship contest, where players start with a $10,000 bankroll and make their plays (sides, totals and money lines) on NCAA tournament games through the title game on April 6. The contestant finishing with the highest bankroll will win the $1,500 SuperContest entry fee and a two-night stay at the Westgate during SuperContest Weekend in August. (Winners will need to provide their own transportation to Las Vegas.)

Three other contests are currently part of the Gamblino series: an MLB contest called Race to the All-Star Break from April 5 through July 15, an NHL contest called Lord Stanley's Challenge from April 15 through the end of the Stanley Cup finals in June and an NBA contest called Pro Playoff Shootout from April 19 through the end of the NBA Finals in June.

Kornegay said he isn't worried about the fact that these qualifying events involve other sports.

"We wish we had pro football year-round," he said with a laugh, "but most everybody that bets football or plays in contests is going to be doing the same for March Madness or at least have a bracket. And we've all seen how daily fantasy sports contests have been growing. If people are playing $1 and $2 in those contests, why won't they play a free contest to have a chance to get in the SuperContest?"

Kornegay said the most important goal is to reach the casual sports fan who might still be unaware that the SuperContest even exists. It will also help educate those interested in how they go about getting in the SuperContest if they don't win a free entry.

Another way that these contests differ from the SuperContest, which uses a static line, is that the lines will continue to be updated and players will get the line at the time they place their mythical wagers.

"We're trying to have [it] as true to a real sports betting experience as we can," Wilson said.

The March to the Championship lines for the first round of games should be available the evening of Selection Sunday, March 15, and will change during the week. Subsequent games will go up as they get posted at sportsbooks.

Kornegay said the SuperContest Satellite Series is the only news he can release at this time but added there will be a lot more coming down the road to help grow the SuperContest. He said one of his main priorities is figuring out a better payout structure. For the first 25 years of the SuperContest, the top 20 finishers cashed. That was increased to the top 30 two years ago, but with the continuing growth of the contest, players are calling for even more spots to finish in the money.

Regardless of the payout structure, the SuperContest has never been more popular. And with the Gamblino partnership, its popularity won't be decreasing any time soon.