LAS VEGAS (AP) — If there's a secret to how four buddies managed to beat the house 76 percent of the time during the NFL's regular season to win a record-setting $736,575, they aren't giving it up.
The four sports bettors from Los Angeles and Boston achieved a feat that was unheard of in the annual SuperContest at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. Contestants and organizers have likened the betting tradition to the World Series of Poker before that card contest caught fire, now attracting thousands who believe anyone has a chance to win.
"This is like the World Series of sports gambling," said Justin Green, 30, one of the four friends who won.
For each of the regular season's 17 weeks, contestants pick the team to beat the sports book's point spread in five different games. When the regular season ended Dec. 28, the foursome that called itself the CH Ballers was the clear victor, picking correctly in 64 out of 85 games.
In past years, a couple hundred people who fancied themselves sports wagering savants might pay the entry fee and hope they'll be right about 60 percent of the time to get some of the prize money.
This year, 1,403 teams and individuals paying $1,500 took the gamble.
With a record number of contestants vying for a record grand prize, the CH Ballers — the "CH" an ode to three of the members' days at Campbell Hall High School in Los Angeles — broke the contest's record for the largest percentage of correct picks.
Oh, and it was their first time playing.
"They stand alone in the record books," said Jay Kornegay, the race and sports book director for the Westgate, which was formerly the Las Vegas Hilton.
The four friends say they aren't gamblers of a professional sort. Green is in the entertainment industry. Andrew Leff, 29, is in commercial real estate. The other two, who wanted to remain anonymous for professional reasons, are in private equity and the financial industry.
The second-place winners — a duo known as General Tso — also don't want to publicly mix their hobby with their lives in investment management, fearing an association with gambling might rub clients the wrong way.
The winners swear there's no magic formula and that a mathematical model developed to predict if a team would beat the point spread was a tool, not a solution. Rather, they said their betting prowess was a case of good friends who combined to work like a team of superheroes, each with their own skills, personalities and leanings balancing out one another.
And there was certainly some luck.
"Some of those games almost gave me a heart attack," Green said.
They've certainly been asked enough times for their secret. Or if nothing else, once the regular season was over, who they had beating the point spread during the playoffs. Emails came in from other sports bettors who credited the team with their money wins. Their picks became the picks to follow.
Oh, and the Super Bowl? They have a pick. They're just not sure they want to share it quite yet.
Asked if the team is invested in the outcome, Green said "heavily."
While the foursome certainly skewed the curve, the rest of the SuperContest's field was packed with overachievers, too. The competitor that finished in 36th place had to be right 62 percent of the time to just barely get the last piece of the prize money — $2,104.
Second-place General Tso would have been the easy winner any other year, picking correctly 70 percent of the time. Hailing from the Boston area, they said they had to set aside their fandom for the New England Patriots to make the dispassionate choices needed to win.
This Sunday, at least one of them will be at the Super Bowl in Arizona to cheer on his team as a fan — unless, he said, a stop in Vegas on the way inspires a wager.