Sometimes, it takes experience to win a football-picking contest.
Sometimes, it takes luck.
For Ernie Carey, the 77-year-old winner of Station Casinos’ $2 million Great Giveaway Football Contest, it took a little of both.
Carey, who has watched pro football since the mid-1950s and has bet it legally since he moved to Las Vegas in 1989, won a $225,000 Dunhill Homes house in the contest with a season record of 180-65.
“I’ve never won anything, period, ever, in that contest,” said Carey, who pooled information with his wife, Fran. “We never argue. We had discussions about the games every week and I picked about two-thirds of them.”
But Fran, who plans to retire from her career as a registered nurse in the maternity ward at Centennial Hospital in May, said her husband was being modest.
“He would do most of the work on it, and I would agree with his picks,” she said.
And most of the time, the picks were right on.
“Seven times in 17 weeks, we got all but one right,” he said. “We were sitting here cursing about that one game that we missed.”
Carey said he frequently picked underdogs in the contest, in which participants choose the winners of each week’s National Football League games without point spreads. The contest offers weekly prizes for the most winners and most losers, as well as an end-of-season contest for the most winners and most losers and participants who get exactly half right and half wrong.
He said games involving the Arizona Cardinals gave him the most trouble because they frequently lost games in which they were favored and won when they were the underdogs.
But Carey, a retiree who formerly worked as a manager for the Frias Transportation Co., attributes the winning season to his great start.
“In the first week, I had every team but the (New England) Patriots, who lost to the (Buffalo) Bills after being ahead at halftime,” Carey said. “That’s kind of the way the year went.”
But the last week of the season was when luck took over. He was among nine contestants who had the best record for the week. Under contest rules, the contestant who chooses closest to the total number of points scored in a tie-breaker game wins $10,000, and the others who tied split another $10,000. As one of nine in a tie, that meant Carey walked away with $1,111 in that final week.
But what was really lucky was that the Week 17 win got him the new house.
Carey tied with two others for the best record of the season, but the tie-breaker for that is posting the best record in weekly picks from the end of the season back. So Carey’s Week 17 win broke the tie, giving him the grand prize.
When Carey learned that he had won the contest, he came home to find his wife and sister watching a movie.
“We were watching ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ and Ernie came in and told us he had something to tell us,” she recalled. “We told him we were watching the movie so he said he’d come back and tell us when it was over. When he told me, I was shocked. So now, I’ll never forget that movie.”
Thursday, Carey and his wife will look at floor plans and visit model homes in Dunhill’s Tuscany neighborhood. They’ll find out on what lot their new home will be built, when it will be ready and start packing.
Carey said he and his wife would sell their existing home, which they bought 20 years ago for $104,000 and has only four years left on the mortgage.
“When we get that money, it will replenish my gambling fund,” Carey said. “My wife said she wants to buy new furniture, but I want to have a little extra to gamble.”
Carey said his wife portions out a monthly allowance for gambling when his disability check arrives. He’s only lost more than he’s won on football in two years since they moved here from Maine.
But he admitted that he usually goes through the rest of the monthly budget on horse-racing bets.
“My sister keeps telling me, ‘You should give up on everything else and just bet football,’ but I can’t do it,” he said.
Carey entered the Station contest at Boulder Station, where he has been a regular customer since the place opened. Station won’t say how many entries they received in the football contest, which frequently is rated one of the city’s best in polls.
You won’t get any insider information from Carey on Sunday’s Super Bowl. He engages in the practice of “middling” bets — having action on both sides and hoping the game is close enough to win both bets.
“I bet on the Patriots to win the Super Bowl at the beginning of the playoffs and I got 5-2 (odds). So if they win, I’ll get $183. Then, I put $90 on the Giants and am getting three points,” he said. “So, if they keep in close, I’ll win both sides.
“Those were my biggest bets of the year,” he said. “I usually bet $20 to $30 tickets and sometimes buy some 10-team teasers.”
But Fran has a winner in mind.
“I want the Patriots to win,” the longtime New Englander said. “My heart is with the Patriots and the Red Sox.”
Carey admitted that his playoff picks haven’t matched his regular-season contest success.
He missed on most of his playoff bets, losing wagers on the Green Bay Packers against the New York Giants and on the New Orleans Saints against the San Francisco 49ers.
But he did take the Patriots against the Denver Broncos and has had great success on 15-team parlays, cashing three tickets for $1,500 apiece in 30 tries over the last few years.
“I also had the (Detroit) Lions over the (Chicago) Bears on one bet and a $25 teaser on the other side and won both sides this year,” he said. “I collected more than $400 on one and more than $700 on the other.”
“Winning like that goes a long way to keeping you alive.”