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Going hog wild at Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest


It is summertime, and in the gaming industry, that can mean only one thing.

That’s right. If you’re in Las Vegas, stay in the darned house.

No, that’s not what I meant. In this modern industry, awash as it is since 2018 in the world of sports betting, summer—in particular, July, when I’m writing this—means betting on “athletes” whose specialty is hogging down as many hot dogs as humanly possible in a ridiculously short amount of time.

Ah, yes. On the Fourth of July, the sports-betting attention fell upon that most famous of annual events in the sport of “competitive eating,” the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in Brooklyn, New York, and all the bookmakers in the nation agreed on one thing: perennial hot-dog eating champion Joey Chestnut would retain his championship belt. (I think it fits even after all the weenies have been gobbled.)

Chestnut was the heavy favorite—at -3,000 before the contest. Of course, he won. But this year’s tube-steak-noshing event was not without incident. In fact, it had politics, heroism and controversy, which is pretty remarkable for an annual event where a bunch of people stand around and stuff frankfurters and buns down their gullets.

The controversy surrounded the over/under. The politics consisted of an animal rights activist with a sign. And the hero? That same champion dog-gobbler, Chestnut.

Since I can sense you’re on the edge of your seat, here’s what happened.

Last year, Chestnut set a record by eating 76 hot dogs in, like, a minute. (OK, it was longer than that. Someone should look that up.) Many of the books placed the over/under for this year at 74.5 weenies. With the contest under way and the dog-gobbling proceeding at a nauseating pace, suddenly, an animal-rights protester climbed up on the stage with a sign reading “Expose Smithfield Deathstar.” It was a protest aimed at pork supplier Smithfield Food.

Chestnut was distracted by the guy. In fact, he was downright mad. He stopped his dog-noshing at just 17 tube steaks, grabbed the guy, took him down in a chokehold, and threw him into the arms of security personnel, who took him off the stage.

Then, he went back to the scarfing at hand. He still won the contest easily for his 15th dog-noshing title. However, his winning total was a paltry, comparatively anorexic 63 hot dogs.

That meant anyone who took the over at 75 weenies lost their bets. However, in remarkable gestures of fairness, FanDuel and DraftKings both refunded the over bets in light of the Smithfield Deathstar distraction.

What I find even more remarkable, though, is Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. Here’s a guy who can scarf more than 70 hot dogs in about 15 minutes, and he’s still thin. In fact, he judo/kung-fu’d a guy off the stage—and it says here he came into the event on crutches with a ruptured tendon in his foot.

This guy’s Hot Dog Batman. He’s the Smithfield Deathstar.

I eat two hot dogs and I’m ready for a nap, during which the wieners are transformed into about 10 pounds of fat.

By the way, despite Chestnut’s gastronomical heroics, actually watching the hot dog-eating contest is pretty rough. A bunch of people with hot dogs and buns stuffed into their faces is quite a ghastly spectacle. You never seem to see the yellow penalty cards assessed for “messy eating,” but it sure looks messy from this perspective.

And because Chestnut has been so dominant, we never get to see the finer points of the sport come into play. According to the rules, partially eaten hot dogs at the end of regulation still count, as long as they’re subsequently swallowed. (Yikes.) If there is a tie, the contestants go to a five-hot-dog “eat-off” to see who can eat that many more quickly. Further ties will result in a sudden-death eat-off of one more hot dog in the fastest time.

It’s kind of like a shootout in hockey, only with processed pork. But that doesn’t matter. As long as Chestnut’s in the game, it’s not happening.

Are there in-play wagers offered by the sportsbooks during hot-dog eating contests? Can you bet on who will wretch next? On the next contestant to gag when a hot dog chunk sails down his esophagus?

How about a wager on how far Joey Chestnut can fling an animal rights activist?

Incidentally, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a slogan for Smithfield Foods: “Cruel to Pigs and Humans.” Evidently, they have demonstrated unfair labor practices, in addition to, you know, slaughtering 30 million pigs a year.

Of course, the Major League Eating organization has a counter-slogan:

“You Can’t Do Nathan’s with Tofu.”

(You’re right. I made that up.)

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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