Rush Street Taking Unique Approach with its Pick’Em Contests
The direction of online sports betting has been to speed up the opportunity for action with wagering, say, on each half of a football game or on each quarter, and even on the over-under for individual rushing and passing yards, which makes every play a potential decision-maker on bets.
So, it’s interesting to see online bookmaker Rush Street Interactive using the time-honored traditional season-long football pick’em contest as a tool to reward its customers and encourage player loyalty.
This past NFL season, Rush Street Interactive offered three season-long contests in three states — Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. For Pennsylvania, it was the second year that RSI offered a pick’em contest, and the company did it through each of its two wagering websites, BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse.
The Pennsylvania contest also enjoyed some prominence because it offered the largest prize pool of the three, $500,000. The New Jersey contest had a $100,000 prize pool as did the Illinois contest.
The Pennsylvania and New Jersey contests each had a $150 entry fee and the Illinois contest was free with one entry per account. RSI did not take a rake in any of the contests. The goals, RSI chief operating officer Mattias Stetz said, were more strategic.
"The motivation was to engage our regular sports bettors throughout the NFL season,” Stetz said. “We had side promotions as well. For instance, each week, the winner of that week received $2,500 in Pennsylvania, for example. And in New Jersey, the weekly winner won $1,000. So, for us, the contest was something for us to give back to our regular sports bettors to come back week after week.
“And we were including other promotions as well — say, you placed a bet on a Thursday night game, you might get a free bet for a Sunday game. So, (the contests) were a retention mechanism for our loyal players to come back week after week to fill in the pick‘ems.”
The Pennsylvania grand prize winner was Jason Schwartz, a 37-year old salesman from Pittsburgh, who earned $125,000. Schwartz credited his late grandmother, with whom he shared an interest in sports wagering.
Huge Season-Long Contests
Sports bettors familiar with the massive season-long contests such as the Westgate Casino and more recently, at the new Circa Casino, know that those contests are meant to appeal to the skill side of football bettors. Those contests require four-figure entry fees ($1,500 at Westgate, $1,000 at Circa) and grand prizes are seven figures. Contestants make a limited number of selections but the picks are against the spread.
Stetz said RSI wanted its contests to have a broad appeal. The picks would be on all Sunday games (1 p.m. ET and later) and the Monday night game, and the picks were just straight-up winners. “That was something we discussed a lot internally — whether we should have our contest against the spread, which factors in the odds of the game, or should we just pick the winners,” Stetz said. “And we thought that we wanted to be different in a couple of ways. To attract more regular people, we lowered the entry fee to $150. … and we also opened up entries so each player could enter 25 entries (in Pennsylvania).
”And we also felt that we’ll do this as a pure pick’em without the spread.”
People think that picking just straight-up winners is easy, Stetz said with a chuckle. He assures them from personal experience that it not.
Shared ‘Liquidity’ Would Be Intriguing
Because sports wagering in the U.S. is regulated state-by-state, the concept of increasing so-called “liquidity” (meaning customer participation across state lines) is problematic. If it did happen, the prize pools likely would grow, just like lottery prizes skyrocketed as states came together to offer the multi-jurisdictional lottery contests, Powerball and Mega Millions.
Stetz offers the disclaimer that he is neither a politician nor a lawyer and matters such as shared liquidity are entirely in the hands of regulators but the notion of greater liquidity does present intriguing prospects.
“If the regulators allow shared liquidity that would make it more interesting for the players … The prize pools can be huge,” he said.
In the meantime, RSI will examine its own experiences with season-long contests.
“Our only comparison is our contest in Pennsylvania from last year (2019) and we’re hoping to grow even more next year,” Stetz said. “For us, we obviously ran it (in 2020) after the success of the first year, so we’ll look at how players who participated in the contests wagered throughout the season compared to players who did not participate in those contests.
”We’re still waiting for the final analysis but so far, it has been appreciated by our players and those players seem to be long-term loyal to us.”
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