ESPN The Magazine

THE SUPER RISE OF THE SUPERCONTEST

Simple rules, huge payoff: This is the oral history of how a little-known NFL betting competition for Las Vegas sharps became a national phenomenon for everyone else.

On New Year’s Day 2017, Damon Graham’s morning started like any other NFL Sunday: He got up, watched some football and headed to his 1 p.m. shift at a Las Vegas Starbucks.

By the time he took his break a few hours later, he’d won nearly $900,000.

Graham became the latest winner of the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, an NFL handicapping competition that started as a local event in the late 1980s and has since become the premier gambling contest of its kind. Through ownership changes and remarkable growth, the basics have remained the same: You plop down the $1,500 entry fee and then pick five NFL games against the spread each week during the regular season. Every correct pick is worth a point, every push half a point. Most points at the end of the year wins.

The simplicity is the allure. Graham beat 1,853 contestants that season, and every year social media juices the growth of the SuperContest even more. As the competition expands, it naturally gets harder to win: While Graham bet correctly on 65 percent of his picks, SuperContest winners are increasingly finishing above 70 percent. That’s unbelievably accurate for Vegas, where a bettor generally needs to hit 52.3 percent to make money above the standard vig (the amount charged by a bookmaker to take a bet), and the pros have a good year if they beat the house 55 percent of the time.

So how exactly did an underground contest among Vegas insiders become a million-dollar national sensation, one where a new wave of bettors, far from the Strip, take home quit-your-day-job money? The SuperContest’s rise is not just a matter of luck and timing but also a reflection of the people who created and play this super-rich, super-tense, super-fun competition.

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