LAS VEGAS — It was a quarter to three. The deadline for the first week of the two Circa NFL contests, with $10 million in guaranteed prizes, loomed in 15 minutes.
A Texas client of proxies Matt Simo and Toni Law was bound for a Sinatra lament because his phone couldn’t connect with Circa to enter his six picks.
He’d visited to register for Circa Sports Million and Circa Survivor, and he told Simo he’d submit his own selections that opening week. He couldn’t. Panicky, he rang Simo, a Glenbard West and Syracuse graduate.
Simo and Law were busy at the Circa Sports outlet at Tuscany, on Flamingo east of the Strip. People occupied the counter and kiosks.
Survivor business is reserved for kiosks or Circa’s app. Simo also struggled to connect to Circa’s circuitry, so he darted out to the Tuscany parking lot.
Each entry cost $1,000. For Million, three 0-5 starts would have put the Texan in a deep hole. By missing his three Survivor picks, though, he would have been eliminated in Week 1.
Three grand, probably all $6,000, incinerated.
“Anyone could have trouble logging into an app,” Simo says. “He couldn’t get to the book in time, then he had trouble with the app. We were up against it. A quirk.”
Out in the sun, by parked cars, Simo successfully entered the Texan’s six-pack.
“With two minutes to spare. A close call.”
THE STEVENS EFFECT
With a $25 entry fee that lured 15,000 contestants, Palace Station might have started all this in 1986. The then-Hilton SuperBook concocted the SuperContest in ’89.
Last season, the six competitions staged by Circa, the Westgate SuperBook, the Golden Nugget and William Hill paid nearly $15 million in prize money.
Last Saturday morning, Simo inked 29 customers at Circa, Westgate and Tuscany.
“Typical July Saturday,” he says.
Proxies sprint from summer to early next year.
Simo and Law, from Iowa, operate the premier Football Contest Proxy (FCP), including an occasional entry miracle with the $299 fee.
Both are 49. They worked at a gambling-information company before joining business forces in 2009, submitting 11 client entries. By 2014, it hit 454.
For the aforementioned six competitions, they handled more than 2,200 submissions for more than 1,000 clients.
That’s about 20% of the market. Contestants must be at least 21. Many hail from outside Nevada, requiring a local agent, or proxy, to manually enter weekly picks.
FCP clients won more than $2 million in each of the last two seasons. Success has provided a grateful Simo, his wife and young daughter with a comfortable home in the Southern foothills.
Springboards occurred in 2013, when he won the FootballContest.com site, for $500, in a GoDaddy auction, and 2014, via a Las Vegas Sun feature.
After a sports-betting seminar at the South Point in January 2019, Matt Metcalf, then at the SuperBook, informed Simo that he would form a new sportsbook operation at The D and Golden Gate that June.
The towering Circa opened in late 2020. Derek Stevens, owner of those three downtown properties, envisaged two high-end football contests, which Metcalf hoped FCP could help promote.
That gave Simo and Law immense validation.
It also helps having an Old West maverick like Stevens around. Despite $3 million coming out of his own wallet, an overlay, for his ’21 contests, he bumped this season’s guarantee to $12 million.
“He’s a gambler,” Simo says.
Last season, FCP’s Billy Chippas claimed $1.533 million as one of five 20-0 Survivor victors, which included the three-way bonus-splitting of $1 million for waiting till the final weekend to use Kansas City or Tampa Bay.
Ryan Hojnacki, a Chicago native living in La Jolla, California, won SuperContest Gold in 2020, turning $5,000 into $360,000.
Chicago-born bettor and media personality Todd Fuhrman nabbed $75,000, one of 13 clients who won prize money, in Circa’s inaugural Survivor contest.
And after Vegas barista Damon Graham won the 2017 SuperContest, and $905,482, he enlisted FCP because surprise engagements and travel can clog a fall.
Last season, a Survivor client had 14 live entries (his parents had each bought the maximum six, giving him 18) when he submitted Cincinnati on every remaining Week 8 ballot.
The Bengals lost 34-31 at the Jets.
Another Survivor client had the Raiders to win in Dallas on Thanksgiving, which happened, 36-33 in overtime, knocking out many who had picked the popular Cowboys.
Three days later, however, that client took Philadelphia, which lost 13-7 at the Giants.
“I cannot imagine . . . he had gotten through the tough one, with the Raiders,” Simo says.
Someone else with two remaining Survivor spots used one on Arizona, at Detroit, in
Week 15. The Lions won 30-12.
The next week, he used his final entry on Arizona again — and again it lost, 22-16, to -Indianapolis.
In Survivor, contestants pick a team to win straight up and cannot use it again. Season navigation is tricky. Three tilts on Thanksgiving, a Dec. 23 game and two on Dec. 25 counted as singular weeks.
For the former, Florida resident Chippas and contest partner Ryan Coffey took the Bears at Detroit.
“He needed a last-second field goal on that one, but he got it,” Simo says of Cairo Santos’ 28-yarder that gave the Bears a 16-14 victory. “The beauty of the contests is that anyone can get some breaks.”