Not all things in the world of Pennsylvania online gambling come together quickly. But Rush Street Interactive’s season-long NFL picks contest certainly did.
The $500k Pennsylvania Pick ’Em wasn’t some long-percolating idea that the Rush Street folks had been whiteboarding from the moment the Supreme Court ruled on PASPA. Rush Street COO Mattias Stetz tells Penn Bets that the elapsed time from the decision to offer a contest until the actual launch of said contest was just a couple of weeks.
Play SugarHouse became the first online sportsbook to launch in the state on May 28, and fellow Rush Street property Bet Rivers followed on June 25. “It was a few weeks after Bet Rivers launched,” Stetz says, “that we realized, ‘I think we have the volume to be able to do something big in Pennsylvania.’”
By Friday, Aug. 2, the contest was live and available for entry (even if the press release announcing it didn’t hit until the following Monday).
Just like that, Pennsylvania became the first state other than Nevada, home of the famed SuperContest run by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, to offer a legal, regulated, season-long NFL contest.
Yes, even ahead of the East Coast’s most pioneering sports betting state, New Jersey. But maybe not too far ahead of New Jersey. More about that in a bit.
But first, a look inside how the PA Pick ’Em came to be.
Pinpointing the price point
The first key consideration for Rush Street was how to price the contest. The SuperContest costs $1,500, which allows Westgate to offer a seven-figure first prize but prevents the competition from being financially accessible to all Nevadans.
Rush Street’s land-based properties got involved and surveyed some of their casino players in hopes of determining the perfect entry fee to build a large prize pool while welcoming more than just the high-stakes crowd.
The final decision was to set the Pennsylvania Pick ’Em price at $150 — with an early-bird special of $125 that ends tomorrow.
“We wanted to be a little more approachable to the average player,” Stetz explains. “We want players to feel that anyone can enter this and have a chance to win a substantial amount.”
For those with larger bankrolls, well, they’re allowed up to 25 entries. The top prize in the PA contest is $125k, with the potential to grow higher if entries go into the mid 3000s and the $500k guarantee is met.
Straight up or spread?
The next item the organizers had to figure out was how to structure the actual picks element.
In the SuperContest, entrants are selecting five games of their choosing each week and picking against the spread. Stetz says they saw an opportunity here to differentiate from that contest.
“We went back and forth: Should we have the spread in there? Should we not have the spread in there?” Stetz says. “And then we thought, let’s keep it simple, let’s make it a pick ’em, you just pick the winners.”
All games from Sunday at 1 p.m. ET onward will be part of the contest each week. (So no Thursday games, no Saturday games, and no early-Sunday London games.)
The PA Pick ’Em will award not just end-of-season prizes to the top 500 finishers, but it will also pay $2,500 each week to the top finisher registered on Play SugarHouse and to the top finisher on Bet Rivers. Because there’s a high likelihood of tie scores at the top, predicting the total points scored in the Monday night game will serve as a tiebreaker.
And the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board wanted a second tiebreaker, Stetz tells Penn Bets, so if necessary, earliest submission of picks wins.
Get it right the first time
Even if the contest was organized on what feels like a, well, rushed timetable, Rush Street is taking seriously the effort to get the details right.
“The idea is to do this every year going forward,” Stetz says.
It’s been a collaborative effort with the PGCB, which wanted to see the actual game and required Rush Street Interactive to submit it for “lab testing.”
“There were steps. It wasn’t as straightforward as to just submit a one-page description of the game,” Stetz says. “They wanted to understand, when people submit the entries, where is the money held? They actually tested it and made sure that it was accounted for correctly and that the pool is kept separate. On a daily basis, we need to submit how many entries we get and how much money we’re collecting from players. So it is actually more robust, from a regulatory perspective, than just submitting a one-pager saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”
(An important detail: There is no rake. Every dollar entered goes into the prize pool.)
How many entries?
If Rush Street is submitting numbers to the PGCB, that means Stetz knows exactly how many sign-ups they have. He wasn’t willing to give an exact accounting to us yet, but he said they got “a couple of hundred” entries in the very first weekend — before the official announcement went out — and it’s been ramping up again as the end of the early-bird entry period nears and as the local TV and radio ads for the contest are starting to run.
“We’re confident that we will cover the guarantee,” Stetz says, “and hopefully we can start having a ticker on the site showing the increase in the prize pool as that happens.”
He also notes that there are more entries at SugarHouse than at Rivers so far. If that holds, it would mean Rivers entrants have a better chance at winning the weekly prizes.
Stetz also reveals that there have been a couple of players who have hit the 25-entry max.
So, about New Jersey …
The Play SugarHouse platform is also live across the state line in New Jersey, a state in which there’s been much whispering but no action when it comes to a season-long NFL contest.
Pooling players from both states together is definitely not an option this year. But Rush Street running a separate New Jersey contest?
“We’ll do something else for New Jersey,” Stetz assures us. “We’re actually in the final stages of deciding exactly what we will do for New Jersey, but there will be something.”
Photo by James Lang / USA Today Sports