When the deadline passes on Saturday morning in Las Vegas, more than 2,000 pigskin prognosticators will kick off a 17-week battle for a million-dollar prize.
The SuperContest, hosted by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, is widely considered the most prestigious football handicapping contest in the nation, if not the world. Contestants make five picks against the spread on NFL games each week throughout the season.
By Wednesday, the contest had easily surpassed its previous record for entries and was poised to offer its first million-dollar prize.
"We'll probably end up between 2,500 and 2,600 [entries]," said Jay Kornegay, vice president of race and sports at the Westgate. "If we get to 2,500, it's about a 35 percent increase over last year."
Kornegay has been running the SuperContest since 2004. There were only 411 entries and a first-place prize of just $131,520 when he took it over. Thirteen years later, Kornegay expects second place to pay around $500,000, with the winner fetching more than $1.2 million, depending on how many last-minute entries show up.
The growth of the SuperContest has been staggering and mirrors the spike in sports betting that Nevada sportsbooks have enjoyed in recent years. An all-time high $4.5 billion was bet at the state's books in 2016. It was the seventh straight year that the books set a record for handle. With football season still to come, they're on pace to handle $5 billion in bets this year.
"The climate surrounding sports betting has changed dramatically over the last couple years," Kornegay told ESPN this week. "People are talking about it. National media outlets cover it more. You have commissioners of major sports coming out and saying that it should be expanded and regulated. That itself has lightened that dark cloud that's been hovering over sports gaming for decades."
The SuperContest has produced a wide array of winners. Last year, a Starbucks barista beat 1,854 contestants and won more than $900,000 by going 54-28-3 (65.8 percent of his picks). In 2013, David Frohardt-Lane, a financial trader from Chicago with expertise in math and statistics, captured the title, winning $557,850. One year a woman who had entered the contest for years with her husband decided to give it run on her own and ended up winning.
In 2010, a Boston-based sports bettor who used the alias Richard Stand won the contest the first time he entered, besting 345 prognosticators to win $214,000 after a wild last-minute trip to Las Vegas.
"When [Jack] Nicklaus won the '86 Masters, he won $144K," Stand told ESPN in a direct message. "When [Phil] Mickelson won the 2006 Masters, he won $1.3M. We're seeing the same kind of pure escalation in the SuperContest, only much, much faster."
Stand is playing the SuperContest Gold event this year, a winner-take-all event at the Westgate with a $5,000 entry fee. Kornegay estimates he'll have 80 or more entries in the SuperContest Gold.
The deadline to enter this year's SuperContest is 11 a.m. PT on Saturday. You must enter in person at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas.