Gentlemen, Start Your Wagers

Free fun. That’s the best way to describe Coast Casinos’ venerable Pick the Pros football contest, back for its 35th year at the Gold Coast, Suncoast, Sam’s Town, California, Fremont and the Orleans.

It’s a free NFL contest that distributes $500,000 in prize money over the course of the season. Simply join the players club, and your account will be set up to play every week. Everyone gets at least three weekly entries, and those with higher club status get up to five. It’s all electronic, so there’s no filling out tickets or standing in lines to put in picks at the sportsbook counter. Instead, just find a kiosk—there are more than 60 of them at the participating casinos—and insert your players-club card. The week’s games come up, and you make your picks on the touch screen. When you’re done, the machine spits out a ticket so you can “sweat” the action. And with $30,000 up for grabs every week, sweat you will.

It’s winner-take-all, so that $30K starts to feel real when you maintain a clean slate through the Sunday morning games, and on the occasions when you’ve picked all winners with just a couple of games to go, it really starts to get crazy. The only downside is you almost have to go perfect to win, because there are no point spreads involved and lots of players are competing. A one-loss ticket has a chance on a week with multiple upsets, but the norm is zero losses to get the money.

The best way to play is with friends, with everyone sharing in the result. If you have four people with three cards each, for example, that’s 12 shots. Coordinate before picking to make sure you don’t have any duplicate tickets and there’s a reasonable chance you’ll have at least one clean card going into the afternoon games. One person can be designated to monitor the results and alert the others if things are going well. Make it through Sunday without a loss and I guarantee you’re in for the most exciting Monday Night Football game you’ll ever watch.

What’s it worth financially? It depends on how many other cards you’re up against, and that’s probably tens of thousands. It might be worth a buck or two in expected return, but that’s not the main consideration. “Totally free” and “lots of fun” are two things that count for a lot in gambling, and both are present here.

Finally, you aren’t eliminated from playing in the future if you miss a week. Yes, there’s a $1 million bonus if you play every week and pick 82 percent winners, but that’s such a long shot it’s not worth considering. Play when you want to; just be sure to get to a kiosk before the kickoff of the first pro game on Sundays.