DraftKings Chips In More Than $500K Of Overlay For Super Pool NFL Handicapping Contest

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The SuperContest, this is not. But you have to say this for DraftKings’ inaugural Super Pool: It offers a heck of a lot more value than the famed Westgate Las Vegas NFL handicapping contest it sought to measure up to.

With the largest buy-in — $500 — and the largest guaranteed prize pool — $1 mm — seen in any regulated NFL picks contest on the East Coast, DraftKings Sportsbook in New Jersey took a massive swing on a “season-long” contest. (“Season long” is in quotes because the Super Pool contest will in fact be just 14/17ths of the season long, having kicked off this past Sunday with the Week 4 games.)

DK needed 2k entries to avoid an overlay.

The sportsbook came up short … of getting halfway there.

Despite various late efforts to incentivize buy-ins, the final tally was 989 entries. That means, even if you don’t factor in the deals DraftKings offered, the company is on the hook for at least $505,500 of the prize pool.

It’s assuredly not what DraftKings envisioned when it announced the contest just after the 2019 NFL season began. But, again, it’s a fantastic value for the 989 who bought in.

First place in the Super Pool still pays $250k, followed by $150k for second and $100k for third. The top 149 places will still pay out, meaning 15.06% will cash, instead of the expected 7.45%. For comparison, in the SuperContest, only 3% of the field will cash this year.

Deals and discounts

DraftKings tried its best to beef up the number of entries. At one point, DK sent out a buy-two-get-one-free offer.

Last Friday afternoon, two days before the start of the contest, DK sent an email to account holders offering half the entry fee back in free bets.

(For clarification, a “free bet” is not the same as actual money back. Each $50 free bet has to be wagered, and if it wins, you keep the profit but not your $50 stake. So the expected value of $250 in free bets is somewhere more in the neighborhood of $113 if each bet is made with 10% juice.)

Those who signed up early got the short end of the discount stick, which figures to disincentivize early sign-ups for contests in the future. Play SugarHouse did something similar with buy-one-get-one deals for its $500k Pick ’Em contest in neighboring Pennsylvania. That contest also featured overlay, though not nearly as much as the DK Super Pool.

Why did it come up short?

A company like DraftKings goes into a contest like this comfortable with some measure of overlay, figuring the publicity and goodwill are worth paying for. It’s quite possible that the folks behind this knew that 2k entries was ambitious.

Still, one assumes they weren’t counting on finishing shy of 1k. So why was the public response so lackluster?

  • The New Jersey factor: A contest like this isn’t appealing to gamblers who live outside the Garden State, because they need to be willing and able to make their way into Jersey Sunday morning after Sunday morning to get their picks in. Even though this particular contest offers the flexibility to skip weeks, doing so puts an entrant at a competitive disadvantage. While the drive-over-the-George-Washington-Bridge crowd is great for traditional sports betting handle, those customers can’t be counted on to sign up for a three-month commitment. The same goes for the sharps who flew in for January’s single-weekend Sports Betting National Championship and would undoubtedly pounce on an overlay this massive if they could do so from the comfort of their homes.
  • The Week 4 factor: DraftKings wasn’t able to get this contest approved and off the ground in time for Week 1, and it seems fairly clear that the greatest anticipation for a major season-long contest is felt during the preseason, when bankrolls are robust and everybody is, well, ready for some football. After three weeks of games have been played, and bettors are into their week-to-week rhythms, committing to a contest like this might not hold the same attraction.
  • The 3-max factor: SugarHouse came closer to its guarantee in part because it allowed players to enter up to 25 times. DraftKings opted for a more limited approach, permitting only three entries per account. Especially with the looming overlay, some New Jersey-based bettors with big bankrolls would have been happy to fire 10 or 20 bullets, had they been allowed.
  • The $500 factor: While $500 isn’t much compared to the $1,500 price point for the SuperContest, it’s still a lot for the casual gamblers, many of whom start with a deposit of $100 or $200 and have never had $500 in their accounts — never mind the ability to part with $500 and still have leftover money to bet with week to week. At $150, SugarHouse found a price point closer to the low-stakes sports bettor’s wheelhouse. DK mostly limited itself to the mid-stakes and high-stakes crowds with its $500 cost.

First week in the books

The Super Pool allows entrants to spread 70 picks over 14 weeks in whatever manner they like, which creates a fascinating strategic dynamic while making scoreboard-watching extremely complicated.

DraftKings was not able to provide full stats to NJ Online Gambling in time for this article, but the top 50 on the leaderboard are available for any DK Sportsbook account holder to see, and one surprising fact is that at least 19 entrants made picks in all 14 Week 4 Sunday/Monday games.

It was probably the most surprise-filled week of NFL football so far this season, with seven betting underdogs winning outright, so the most games anyone got correct against the spread was nine. (At least one entry went an ugly 5-for-14, all but eliminating itself from serious contention already.)

Technically, five entries are tied for the lead with nine games correct, but three of those also have five games incorrect. So the true leader right now is “rpruyn1981,” who went 9-of-10, hitting on Carolina, Cleveland, Buffalo, Oakland, Tennessee, New York, Tampa Bay, Seattle, and Jacksonville before spoiling a perfect week by taking Cincinnati to cover against Pittsburgh on Monday night.

The best perfect scores on the board are some 5-for-5s.

Of course, it’s a long season (though some entrants have much less of it remaining than others). It also might be a long offseason for DraftKings, which will have some thinking to do about how to format the 2020 Super Pool to come closer to hitting its guarantee.

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Eric Raskin

Eric is a veteran writer, editor, and podcaster in the sports and gaming industries. He was the editor-in-chief of the poker magazine All In for nearly a decade, is the author of the book The Moneymaker Effect, and has contributed to such outlets as ESPN.com, Grantland.com, and Playboy.

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