-- LAS VEGAS -- A 32-year-old Starbucks barista won more than $900,000 in the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest, the most prestigious football handicapping contest in the world.
Yes, you could say a regular Joe beat the Vegas wiseguys.
The SuperContest, which costs $1,500 to enter, is a Vegas institution and has exploded in recent years, growing from 345 entries in 2010 to a record 1,854 this season.
It often draws comparisons as the sports-betting equivalent to the World Series of Poker's Main Event, and in the same way that established pros were more likely to win the Main Event before the poker boom of a decade ago, the SuperContest's growth has seen more amateurs win in recent years.
The champion won under the contest alias "pops2008." His real name is Damon G. (though he says he doesn't want to spill the beans on his full name until the obligatory "picture with the big check" gets published), and he went 5-0 against the Westgate's contest spread in Week 17 to finish with an overall record of 54-28-3 (65.8 percent).
First place was worth $895,482, and he added $10,000 for sharing a mini-contest title by going 13-2 ATS (86.7 percent) over the last three weeks of the season. He actually had two entries in this year's SuperContest, with the other one -- actually his "main" entry -- named pops3284. He said he got the nickname Pops from a resemblance to a character by that name on "The Wayans Bros." show.
The name stuck, and the 3284 stands for his birthday (March 2, 1984). The winning entry, pops2008, came from the year he moved to Las Vegas from Maryland. The pops3284 entry finished tied for 40th, worth an additional $2,217.38 for a grand total of $907,699.38 in earnings from his $3,000 investment.
Damon enjoys sports betting but doesn't claim to be a big bettor. He says he's a grinder and that he had entered the SuperContest the past three years with one entry and finished only above or right around .500 each year.
This year, he decided to go with the maximum two entries but was in the middle of the huge pack for a good portion of the season before finally breaking into the top 50 (that's how many places cash) after Week 12. Even then, he was 3? games out of the lead with his top entry and 5? games back with the eventual winning entry.
His big move came in Week 15, when he went 5-0 with the pops2008 entry and 4-0-1 with the pops3284 entry to move both into a tie for eighth place.
The craziest part of Damon's victory was that both of his entries were tied for fourth place entering Week 17. He decided to go with opposite sides of five different games. His five best bets on the card were Houston 3 at Tennessee, Buffalo -3.5 at New York, Baltimore 2 at Cincinnati, Dallas 4 at Philadelphia, and Miami 9.5 at New England. He put the opposite plays on his pops2008 card, and that one went 5-0 in the early games on Sunday.
"I've never been happier to be wrong about anything in my whole life," he said.
After watching those games end -- though he says he intentionally slept in and watched only the fourth quarters -- he had to go to work. He sweated out his nearest competitors' plays on a nearby TV.
Asked how he could afford the $3,000 for the two SuperContest entries, Damon replied, "I decided last year, after just having one entry, that I wanted to give two a try. I just saved my money by cutting expenses and making sacrifices in my social life. I worked and just got ready for the football season."