Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 | 3:23 p.m.
The newest champion of football handicapping is a Chicago trader who consults for a major professional team and lectures on sports modeling.
David Frohardt-Lane won the premier sports handicapping contest Sunday, taking home $557,850.
The 36 year-old numbers guy beat out more than 1,000 competitors to win the sports betting SuperContest run by the LVH casino-hotel in Las Vegas.
He plans to donate half the winnings to GiveWell, a nonprofit that evaluates other charities.
Frohardt-Lane got into sports betting while studying math at Carleton College. As a sophomore, he used NFL statistics as the basis for a project, and realized that if he had used his model to place bets, he would have won 60 percent of the time.
"I was like, 'Oh my God, I'm going to be a professional gambler," he said.
Instead, a friend convinced him to go into the more stable world of finance.
The Detroit native, who holds a graduate degree in statistics from the University of Chicago, has spoken about sports statistics to students at Boston University's Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists. He won the Cantor Football Handicapping Contest in 2011, walking away with $75,000.
Last summer, he began consulting with a professional sports team, using predictive modeling to help with scouting. He said his employer asked him not to identify the team.
The SuperContest, established in the 1980s, has more than doubled in size in recent years. It drew 517 entries in 2011, 745 entries last year and 1,034 entries this summer.
"It's really become popular over the last few years, mainly because social media is helping get the word out," said LVH sports book head Jay Kornegay, who attributes most of the growth to Twitter.
While other Las Vegas handicapping contests charge about $25 to enter, the SuperContest has an entry fee of $1,500. Only 34 contestants finished in the money this year. Frohardt-Lane had two entries in the contest, meaning that he is taking home about 200 times what he put up.
Each week, SuperContest entrants select five NFL games against the spread, the pinpoint outcomes casinos expect for the game.
Frohardt-Lane spent Sunday at his brother-in-law's all-day wedding reception, checking scores on his iPhone. The contest came down to a San Francisco 49ers game. Frohardt-Lane needed the 49ers to win to oust the contest leader. They started out in the lead, but the Arizona Cardinals tied the game with two minutes remaining.
At that point, Frohardt-Lane got the restaurant to turn on the game. He was just in time to see the 49ers line up to kick a field goal.
"It doesn't make any sense from a psychological perspective, but just seeing the game, I started to regain my confidence a little and felt more in control. Just looking at my iPhone, I felt helpless. When they were lining up for the kick, I just told everyone, 'Don't worry about it, the kick's going to be good and I'm going to win,'" he said.
Phil Dawson made a 40-yard field goal, giving the 49ers the win.
Frohardt-Lane said his wife of six months was OK with his distraction at the celebration.
"It's kind of a stupid little hobby, this obsession with sports betting that I have, so I've been really lucky to find someone who thinks it's really cool," he said.