For sports bettors, the Westgate SuperContest has become the holy grail of handicapping competitions. Last year, a record number of entrants forked over $1,500 in hopes of claiming one of the 50 spots that actually return money.
The problem here lies in the fact that the contest didn’t draw 500 entries (where 10% of the field would make the money on 50 pay slots), or 1,000 entries (where 5% of entries would cash). No, the 2017 version of the SuperContest drew 2,748 entries! Paying 50 spots means that just shy of 2% of the field made any sort of return on their money.
The monetary Westgate SuperContest payouts themselves were as asinine as the field percentage. First place paid out $1,327,000, while second place was $531,000. A min-cash — any team finishing in spots 42-50 — was barely more than double your entry, coming in at $3,792. Yes, you’re doing the math correctly. You beat out 2,700 teams (who all paid $1,500) and your profit was a mere $2,292.
But the first-place prize is beyond laughable. $1.327M? Is anybody complaining about turning $1,500 into $1M? Of course not. You could have made someone a millionaire while pumping over $327,000 into the rest of the payouts and been better off anyway! $1M to first place is more marketable. It’s cleaner. It’s memorable. It’s just better any way you look at it.
Changes in 2018 aren’t changes at all
The Westgate made an announcement this month that it had listened to the complaints from players and a change was going to be made. The 2018 version of the contest will pay…<drumroll>…75 positions! Wow Westgate, you really went all-in with making this more player friendly.
This ‘change’ really isn’t a change at all. The contest is very likely to draw more entries than last year (2017 drew nearly 900 more entries than 2016), making the 75 payout spots the same field percentage as the 50 payout spots from last year.
And why put a hard number of payout slots on the contest anyway? Why can’t it pay 5% or 10% of the field … no matter how many entries? Why can’t Westgate learn from the poker industry who tried, and failed, at super topheavy payout structures? You have to think about keeping money in the ecosystem. You have to think about providing more people with a positive contest experience. You have to consider not being so set in your ways that you ignore an obvious and much-needed fix to your growing entity.
If the SuperContest doesn’t change its ways, it will suffer the same fate as several pioneers across a myriad of different industries. A good idea is poorly run and eventually eclipsed by someone taking your idea and executing it better.
The SuperContest is no different. With sports betting legalization on the horizon, there will be new contests. Those contests will utilize everything good about the SuperContest, and quickly trash the bad. And with that, leaving the SuperContest a relic, and the folks at the Westgate wondering why they didn’t just listen to the players.
The consensus view is the short-term future of widespread legalized sports betting lies in the hands of the highest court in the land. That’s technically accurate, of course.
But from a practical perspective, the fate of legalization in certain states may ironically rest with entities that enjoy sovereignty within their jurisdictions — Indian tribes.
Tribes wield considerable influence in Minnesota
Indian gaming interests have often served as formidable opposition to expansion of other gaming in states where they have a presence. Minnesota is certainly one such example – their 18 casinos, run by 11 tribes overall, give them a great deal of leverage.
The fact they contribute a reported $1.8 billion annually in direct and indirect revenue back to the state likely has something to do with that.
According to a report by the Minnesota Indian Gaming Association, tribal casinos and related industries annually:
- Employ 13,371 people.
- Attract 23 million visitors.
- Channel $482 million to other Minnesota vendors.
In short, they carry plenty of clout. A recent comment by Minnesota Representative Pat Garafolo, the architect of a still-to-be introduced sports betting legalization bill that he’s considerably optimistic about, crystallizes the sphere of influence perfectly:
“I won’t submit a sports gambling bill the tribal casinos are opposed to,” Garofalo said. “Nonnegotiable.”
Tribes’ power rooted in decades-old gaming compact
That type of deference isn’t overly surprising, considering Minnesota’s tribes literally and figuratively hold all the cards.
Minnesota’s claim to fame as the first state to have officially reached a compact with its local tribes for gaming back in 1989 is not a point of pride; their initiative actually led them into a heavily one-sided agreement.
With no real foresight of how profitable Indian casino operations would eventually become, Minnesota signed a compact that allowed the tribes to be perpetually free of any revenue-sharing obligations to the state. Renegotiate a better deal, you say? The compact also stipulates that only the tribes can initiate such a process.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, they’ve subsequently used this outsized influence and deep pockets to make the path of entry for any other gaming interests thorny at best. The combination of their intense lobbying and lucrative campaign contributions has reportedly played a pivotal role in derailing efforts to bring ventures such as racinos and riverboat gambling into the state.
Sports betting legislation’s chances largely in the tribes’ hands
Will sports betting fare any better? Garafolo’s comments are a surprisingly frank admission from an elected official that an outside party – one that technically doesn’t even answer to the state government that he helps manage – dictates potential legislative initiatives to an extent.
Supposed apprehension expressed by an unnamed Minnesota tribal official about sports betting early this year strikes a bit of alarm, as well.
“Most tribes are not really excited about this,” said a Minnesota tribal official who requested anonymity. “It’s not really profitable. Then there are the risk factors, technology and space issues. You still can make more with slot machines.”
Past foray into DFS could be a positive sign
What happens in a state like Minnesota if matters come to a head between the tribes and lawmakers over sports betting? Banking on the legislature to buck their wishes would likely be a sucker’s bet.
It’s not equitable by a long shot, but it’s reality in the North Star State. However, sports betting supporters in Minnesota could draw cautious optimism with respect to the tribes’ willingness to expand their gaming offerings from one example in the recent past.
In 2016, the business division of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe — a tribe that owns and operates Grand Casino Mille Lacs and Grand Casino Hinckley – delved into the daily fantasy sports industry in significant fashion. They rolled out the real-money version of their Grand Fantasy Sports platform that fall in their casinos.
Moreover, they began offering the underlying software, EZ Fantasy, as a white-label solution to casinos in 11 other states. That type of forward thinking with respect to new real-money gaming activity could certainly repeat itself when it comes to sports betting.
The fact all of the tribes’ casinos seamlessly fit the description of a potential “sports wagering premise” licensee under a draft of Garafolo’s potential legislation certainly doesn’t hurt, either.