Borgata Holds First Real-Money Skill Game Contest

When we in the poker community think of skill games, we naturally think of, well, poker. Party of the fight to make online poker legal in the United States over the last decade has been trying to convince people that poker is a game of skill. Recently, the Borgata casino in Atlantic City launched its own skill-based contests, allowing players to pony up money to compete against each other. Of course, now you may be wondering what in the world I’m talking about, as the Borgata is already very well known for its poker room.

borgata-logoHere’s the thing. Poker, while certainly a game of skill, also involves a great deal of luck. It is the combination of these two opposing forces that makes it so much fun. What the Borgata has introduced are competitions where the outcome is based purely on a player’s skill. Players put up money, just like in poker, and most successful players take home a portion of the prize pool. The Borgata is the first casino to do anything like this.

New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) approved the Borgata’s initial foray into skill games, a free throw shooting contest, in February as part of an initiative called “New Jersey First,” an effort to encourage casinos to innovate and gain a first mover advantage over other states. The contest was held on Saturday, March 21st  in the Signature Room of the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

Entries for the contest cost $20 and participants could re-buy once. The prize pool was guaranteed to be at least $10,000, so the Borgata needed 500 entries to avoid an overlay. It expected about 750 people to give it a shot (pun not intended). The casino got that and then some, as there were 1,022 entries when all was said and done.*

In the first round, players had one minute to shoot up to fifteen free throws. The basket was a standard ten feet off the floor and the free throw line was a standard fifteen feet from the front of the rim. Each of the fifteen balls counted as one point except for two specially colored balls, which counted for two points each (think of the “money ball” in the NBA three-point shooting contest). The players with the top 64 scores advanced to the next round; tiebreakers were used in the case of more than 64 players qualifying. The round of 64 was the same, with the top sixteen players advancing.

Starting in the round of sixteen, the competition turned into a standard tournament, with the players being randomly paired. From there, it was a series of heads-up matches, just like the NCAA “March Madness” tournament (it was no coincidence this took place last weekend), narrowing from eight to four to two players and then the champion.

The payout schedule for the projected $10,000 prize pool was $5,000 for first place, $3,000 for second, and $1,000 each for third and fourth. With so many entrants, the winner, 37-year old Al Callejas, won $10,220, half the prize pool. The second place finisher, Wayne Nelson, won $6,132, and the third and fourth place contestants won $2,044 each.

The fifth through sixteenth place players received $100 in Bonus Slot Dollars or $100 Match Play, whichever they preferred.

While anybody over the age of 21 could enter the contest, only an elite few expert free throw shooters had any sort of chance to win. It’s not like in poker where someone could be a total fish and go on a massive run of luck to beat the pros. That said, reports are that many, if not most, of the participants were just there for the fun of it, likely knowing they had no chance. The winner, Callejas, is from Pennsylvania and played basketball at Division III University of Scranton. His father is a high school basketball coach.

In the finals, Wayne went first, scoring 14 out of a possible 17 points. With one ball remaining in his rack, Callejas had tied Wayne, so he was freerolling, as he had at least a tiebreaker round locked up. He calmly sunk the final money ball to increase his score to 16, good for the tournament victory. It might be interesting to basketball fans to know that reports were that Wayne banked every shot, something very unusual for someone shooting free throws. Typically, players only use the backboard when up very close and coming from an angle. Apparently, though, the backboards used at the Borgata were fairly “dead,” in that balls did not bounce hard off of them, making it easier to bank one and have it fall into the hoop.


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