$2.5 Million NFL Survivor Pool Shut Down
Millions of casual sports fans love fantasy sports, both of the daily and season-long variety. DFS has garnered many a headline – both good and bad – in the last few years as it has exploded in popularity. But there are lots of other gambling and pseudo-gambling varieties that are prevalent among sports fans, one being the NFL survivor pool. And it was this week that a giant survivor pool website was shut down by the federal government, leaving thousands of players and millions of dollars flapping in the breeze.
For the uninitiated, survivor pools have been around for years. In these contests, players select one NFL team to win each week. If that team wins, the player moves on the next week; he or she “survives.” If the team loses, the players is eliminated from the competition. The only rule or catch is that you cannot select a team more than once. Those who advance deep in a survivor pool inevitably have to pick a bad team to win and must plan their picks well in advance. Perhaps instead of picking the Pittsburgh Steelers over, say, the pitiful Cleveland Browns in what should be a runaway victory, a player might take a chance with the Steelers in a game in which they aren’t favored by as much and pick a more mediocre team one week to beat the Browns.
The bottom line with survivor pools is that they are fun. They are a way to get a nice little sweat on a team while at the same time convincing yourself that you are making cunning selections. And by the way, survivor pools are typically only run with NFL games because games are weekly and there are a relatively low number of teams to choose from compared to college football.
Many survivor pools are played amongst friends or officemates for a few bucks. Most of the ones online are just for fun, such as the Eliminator Challenge on ESPN.com. But one, Ron & Mike’s Football Pool, was insane. According to ESPN.com, Ron & Mike’s multiple pools this season had at least $2.5 million in prize money up for grabs, money which, along with the business’s documentation, was seized by federal law enforcement officials.
The site, run by Ron Kronengold and Mike Bernstein in New York for the better part of a decade, sent the following message to players who were still alive in the pools:
Please be advised that the Ron and Mike website has been forced to shut down at this time and is unlikely to open again. We understand your frustration and anger at this time but closure of the pool is beyond our control. We apologize to those that are still alive in our various pools and we ask for your patience and understanding while we contemplate the next steps. Unfortunately at this time we cannot make any additional comments.
ESPN reports Ron & Mike’s had two main pools, red and blue, both of which cost $100 to enter and had a maximum capacity of around 10,000 entrants. Because of the popularity of those pools, a $200 second chance pool was started. There was also a $500 high roller pool and a $100 second-half survivor pool.
All told, the pools had over 23,000 entrants and more than $2.5 million in prize money.
It is unknown if Ron & Mike took a rake from the entry fees. If they did so, that would definitely be illegal in New York, but according to ESPN, if all of the entry fees went to the prizes, the organizers would have done nothing against the law.
Ron & Mike seemed to not know whether or not they wanted to keep everything on the down low or be up front about their survivor pool operation. On the one hand, they had a website on which players could register, but on the other hand, they dealt only in cash (yup, that’s a red flag). Cash entry payments were to be mailed to Green River in Plainview, New York. The mailing address routes to a P.O. box at a UPS Store. There is a Green River Capital in Plainview, but according to ESPN.com, neither Ron nor Mike works there.
The name “Ron & Mike’s” was also trademarked for survival pools in 2011, something that someone probably wouldn’t do if they were trying to remain in stealth mode.
Hopefully, even if Ron & Mike did do something illegal, the participants in the survivor pool will get their money back. At this point, all we know is that money was seized. We don’t know how much money, nor do we know if that money is gone for good.
Ron & Mike’s screenshot courtesy Internet Archive Wayback Machine