Computer whiz wins $200K picking NFL

Jan 9, 2001 7:03 AM

A Colorado ski instructor just missed sweeping both the Las Vegas Hilton Super Contest and the Stratosphere’s World Football Handicapping Contest — the two most prestigious football handicapping events in the city.

Phil Byrne of Vail, Colo., won the Hilton’s Super Contest with a phenomenal 58-27 record (slightly over 68 percent), but finished second in the Stratosphere’s contest when he was "caught at the wire" on the final day of the 17-week long contest.

Actually, Byrne said he wasn’t "caught" but, more appropriately, he "misjudged the finish line" like a jockey who prematurely stands up on his mount while another horse passes by.

"I went conservative in the final week," Byrne told GamingToday. "I figured the only way I could lose was if someone went 10-4."

While no one went 10-4, Byrne still fell short after errors were made in placing his final betting entries.

"I had two entries in the Stratosphere contest, and there was a mix-up in the amount of money I had accumulated," Byrne said. "I thought I had $6,500 more in my bankroll than I really had, and that would have been enough to keep my lead at the end."

Byrne either held or shared the lead in the Stratosphere contest since the fourth week of the season. He entered the final weekend with a bankroll of $312,700, with his closest rival, Richard Salzman, about $40,000 behind.

But, believing he had a safe lead, Byrne made only three $1,100 bets while Salzman made 14 bets at the $11,000 maximum. When the dust settled, Byrne went 2-1 and Salzman finished 9-5. That gave Salzman the overall victory with a final bankroll of $318,000. Byrne finished with $313,600.

The winner, Salzman, captured the top prize of $100,000, while Byrne took $40,000 for finishing second. Byrne had a second entry that finished fourth in the competition, worth another $10,000 in prize money.

For his effort in the Hilton Super Contest, Byrne took the top award of $114,600, and a $10,000 bonus for finishing with more than 67 percent winners.

"I think I’m most proud of finishing the Hilton contest with more than 68 percent winners," Byrne said. "I don’t think anyone has finished that high before."

A relative newcomer to major league handicapping events, Byrne was competing in only his second Hilton and Stratosphere contests. But he has been perfecting his computer-based handicapping system for years.

"With the system I’m using, I’ve been able to hit more than 60 percent winners over the last four years," he said. Byrne’s "system," a data-based program, combines players’ stats with team stats. He said it’s designed for regular-season NFL play and not adaptable to college football, hockey or other sports.

During the season, Byrne spent about 10 to 15 hours a week researching team and player information, then took another five hours to input the data.

"Once everything was programmed into the computer, I would hit the ‘enter’ button and it would take about two and a half minutes to calculate the final ratings," Byrne explained.

Byrne said he’s not much of a bettor, although that may change with the addition of $200,000 in prize winnings to his grubstake.