LAS VEGAS (AP) — A new season-long football pool at a Las Vegas casino is taking America's favorite gambling sport to new heights, with a $100,000 buy-in and a $490,000 top prize.
The NFL handicapping pool run by the M Resort cost $10,000 more to enter than the average sale price of a Las Vegas condominium in August.
Seven entrants — including some top prognosticators and a couple deep-pocketed amateurs — must pick the winners of five NFL games each week against the spread, with a point system tallying wins, ties and losses.
It's similar to other contests across the nation, but this pricey pigskin pool is now the most exclusive competition around.
"This is the biggest, baddest, strongest, fastest football contest in the world," said Steve Fezzik, a professional sports gambler who's competing. He won more than $400,000 by winning the Las Vegas Hilton's annual handicapping contest two years in a row.
That contest attracts hundreds of entrants each year with a $1,500 buy-in, making Fezzik's wins the past two seasons about as improbable as winning a major poker tournament twice in a row.
In the M Resort contest, second place brings $140,000, and third place gets $70,000.
The stakes might make most people cringe, but big-time gamblers have put up much more betting on all aspects of games.
The late Vegas casino developer Bob Stupak, for example, once bet $1 million on the Super Bowl and won, taking the Cincinnati Bengals in 1989.
Mike Colbert, race and sports director for Cantor Gaming, which runs the M Resort's sports book, said risk is what the high stakes pigskin pool was designed for.
"I don't think it's a contest for the average guy," Colbert said. "You're not dealing with anyone in this contest with less than a seven-figure bankroll."
Later in the season, Fezzik said he'll likely make moves based on his standings and what he thinks his opponents will do. To pick games, he spends a couple nights each week poring over any information he can get and comparing opinions with other gamblers he trusts.
After four weeks, Fezzik is in the middle of the pack at 11-9, among three entrants two games behind two opponents who share the lead, Colbert said.
Despite professionals hawking picks they say are 70 percent winners, Fezzik said it's incredibly hard to pick better than 57 percent against the spread over an entire year.
"People are asking me, 'You know, what's the best advice with these contests,'" he said. "And I would say play really well and just get obscenely lucky."