Joey Chestnut has done it again. The 2020 edition of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest played out on Saturday, July 4, with the world’s top competitive eaters squaring off in a socially-distanced, crowd-free warehouse for the Mustard Belt and a share of $40,000 in prize money.
Despite the unique circumstances, Chestnut mashed 75 hot dogs down his gullet to break his own hot-dog eating world record. Miki Sudo did likewise on the Women’s side, chowing down 48.5 dogs and buns to smash her own world record.
Bettors in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Colorado got to indulge in the action this year with legal betting on this annual tradition getting the green light and odds posted on sportsbooks. A $25,000 free-to-play pool at DraftKings was also offered.
What lessons can be extrapolated from the 2020 proceedings to apply to next year’s betting? Are the favorites always locks to win it all? Are they even worth betting on? Or is the money to be made betting on the underdogs? Here’s what you need to know about betting on the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Why you should never bet on Joey Chestnut
Joey Chestnut has won this event a ridiculous 13 times. He won it handily again in 2020 (see above). He’s the overwhelming favorite to win it all every year, and there’s not much to suggest that he won’t make it happen.
According to the 2020 current odds at DraftKings, the odds of a Chestnut win sat at -1000 before things began while the odds were +550 for any other eater in the field to pull out the victory.
Say you want to bet on Chestnut anyway and put $100 on it. If he does go on to win, at those odds, you’ll make $10. While it’s always nice to have an extra 10-spot laying around, it doesn’t exactly translate into a stellar return on investment.
Now let’s flip the script. Say you go against the grain and the unthinkable happens. A winning $20 bet on any other eater at odds of +550 turns into $130 when we cash out the ticket (the initial stake of $20 plus a $110 profit).
Betting on massive favorites at such unfriendly odds just doesn’t make much, if any, sense. But do any of the men’s competitors have a legitimate shot? Here’s a look at the biggest threats from 2020.
- Darren Breeden: He was the runner-up to Chestnut last year, albeit by a whopping 20 hot dogs. Could we see a different story develop a year later?
- Geoffrey Esper: Ranked number two in the Major League Eater rankings, Esper has to be considered a threat to make at least a spirited run at the crown on Saturday.
- Gideon Oji: A disappointing 7th place finish for Oji at last year’s competition should serve as motivation for number five in the MLE rankings.
That’s three competitive eaters out of a field of six who have at least a slim hope of unseating Chestnut. Another secret you might not know about competitive eaters? The best are actually really fit, so it’s worth knowing how in shape your horses are before betting on them. See updated odds on all eaters at DraftKings right here:
Should you bet against Miki Sudo?
Over on the women’s side of the equation, bettors were faced with a similar conundrum. Six-time champion Sudo was a gigantic favorite. At DraftKings, it was odds of -835 for Sudo vs. +500 for anyone else.
While Sudo winning was the most likely outcome, the return was nothing to get excited about. For a $100 winning bet, we’d get back a whopping $12. However, if we drop a $20 on the field and the upset rings true, we’ll make $100 for our efforts.
It doesn’t matter who pulls it off, as long as one of them does so you can cash a ticket at odds of +500.
What are the over/unders on hot dogs eaten?
If you’d like to get even more analytical with the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, there’s absolutely a way to do so. You can place your bets on the over/under for the number of hot dogs eaten by the competitors.
You can think of this as the same as placing a wager on a total for an NFL or NBA game. There’s a simple decision to make on the benchmark number provided by oddsmakers: Will the total be over or under that amount when all is said and done?
There are also a few other intriguing prop bets to consider. Using defending champ Chestnut as an example, his personal best (and current world record) is 75.
The men’s contest
Can he beat that number the next time around? Here’s what the oddsmakers at DraftKings had to say about the range he’d fall in in 2020.
- Over 72.5 -162
- Under 72.5 +125
- Over 74.5 +140
- Under 74.5 -182
In 2019, Chestnut rifled down 71 dogs, while he hit 72 in 2017 to bookend his record-setting 2018 total of 74. If you think he has hit his peak and expect the total to drop this year or believe another record is coming, you could be in for a nice payday if either comes to pass.
Chestnut speculated in 2020 that the conditions were right to break his old record. As he told TMZ, in an air-conditioned warehouse instead of the hot street and with fewer competitors to make hot dogs for (and so better-tasting dogs, he says), conditions are perfect for a record attempt. If those conditions persist for further events, expect Chestnut to take his record a few dogs further.
You can also bet on the individual marks for the competitors. For Darren Breeden, for example, the bar was set at 49.5. You simply need to choose if you like him to go over or under that tally.
The women’s contest
There are also bets to be found on whether a record will be set on the men’s or women’s side, as well as the total number of dogs eaten for the winner in both brackets. Here’s what the odds looked like for the women.
- Over 40.5 -150
- Under 40.5 +115
Sudo’s prior best was 41, but she clearly blew away the over/under line in 2020.
How COVID-19 has affected (or might affect) this year’s contest
In years past, the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has been a sight to behold as tens of thousands of fans took in the action live at Coney Island in New York City. Millions more watched along on ESPN at home.
It was a different story in 2020. Just like virtually every other sporting event, the COVID-19 pandemic meant no fans were in attendance. Additionally, as opposed to being held in an open-air venue, the proceedings were moved to an undisclosed location.
The changes clearly did have ripple effects on the competition as both winners set new records. Will adding fans back in and moving back outside make those newly set records unbeatable? Oddsmakers will definitely have to factor it in and we can say that it’s certainly interesting food for thought.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest by the numbers
The roots of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest date back to 1916 (or so the legend says, as official records only date back to 1972). Either way, there has been enormous growth in the contest from the early days. Consider the following:
- 13: Total contests won by Joey Chestnut. He has won the last 5 in a row and previously had eight straight wins.
- 7: Total contests won by Sudo, all of which have come consecutively.
- 14: The winning tally in 1972, the first year official records were kept.
- 50: The game-changing tally posted by Takeru Kobayashi in 2001, double the 25 of the year before.
- 74: Chestnut’s total in 2018, which stood as the world record until he hit 75 in 2020.
- 10: Number of minutes that the contest runs for.
- $4.75: Price of a single Nathan’s hot dog at Coney Island.
- 1,700: Number of hot dogs typically prepared for the contest.
- 40: As in hot dogs, which was the top prize in 1972.
- $10,000: Top prize for the current winner.
As you can see by prize money alone, the contest has evolved from a curiosity into a serious event. For some additional perspective on the numbers, consider that Kobayashi’s tally of 50 in 2001 was a 257% spike over the winning number of 14 in 1972.
If we look at Chestnut’s new record of 75, it’s a rise of over 420% over the 1972 winning tally. Eating contests are big business these days. While this is by far the most famous, there are upward of 3,000+ contests held annually across the globe, including qualifying events to see who has what it takes to compete at the signature Nathan’s contest.
Can you use analytics to bet on hot dog eating?
Back in the days when the contest was little more than a side attraction, the answer was “No.” Now that the event has risen in popularity and the competition level right along with it, we can say “Maybe.”
Since Takeru Kobayashi’s stunning performance in 2001, when he doubled the total of the prior year’s winner, the event has been even more competitive. The winning tally on the men’s side has been over 60 for year after year for over a decade.
The women’s contest made its debut in 2011, and totals for the winners have typically been in a tight range of 31 to 41. When it comes to totals, we have some data to go off of, so we can say that analytics plays at least somewhat of a role.
As for the winners, we can’t say for certain. Both Chestnut and Sudo are on dominant runs, and the trends show no signs of abating. However, there’s always the possibility of an upset.
Can Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest be rigged?
Anything is possible, but it’s tough to see how the competitors could pull it off, or why they would want to with so much prize money and prestige at stake.
A designated scorekeeper watches over the proceedings with an eagle eye, and penalty cards can be issued for things such as regurgitation or messy eating. Also, the defending champs, Chestnut and Sudo, have been on dominant runs. They don’t seem to need any help in mowing down the competition.
This year, they are the overwhelming favorites for the men’s and women’s competitions. Legal betting on the event has been permitted in NJ, NH and CO for the first time.
So why hasn’t betting been allowed on the event in the past? The answer is twofold. For starters, the legal sports betting environment is complicated, with individual states having things they may or may not frown upon. Since sports betting is a fairly new development for many of them, the envelope hasn’t been pushed too far, and options for betting on entertainment events have been rather scant as a result.
Things are different this year. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the sporting calendar, so sportsbooks are spending more time on things that may not necessarily move the needle otherwise. Hence, the push for betting on the Nathan’s contest took off and dreams were realized.
Where can you watch the 2021 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest?
ESPN has been providing broadcast coverage of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest each year since 2003. The first year was on tape delay, but it has been live and in living color every year since then.
Normally, the event is held outside of the Nathan’s location in Coney Island with thousands of fans in attendance. It was held without fans in a private location for 2020, but ESPN was still be there to bring us the action live.
Coverage usually begins at noon Eastern on the main ESPN channel, which is available for streaming via many cord-cutting providers. You should also be able to pick it up on the ESPN app, but please note that that’ll require signing in with a valid TV provider.
What are the long-term effects of eating competitions?
There are some risks involved with competing in contests of this ilk, and some of them are of the long-term complication variety.
Among the potential problems is a condition known as gastroparesis, a disorder that has to do with the weakening of muscles in the stomach. If this were to happen to a competitive eater, the ability for the body to move food naturally through the digestive tract would be impacted.
Consuming such large quantities of food — not only at the contest but also in preparation for it — opens the door to potentially severe bouts of vomiting. One well-known competitive eater claims he’s thrown up over 10,000 times in his career. Over time, all sorts of damage could be done internally to the stomach, esophagus, throat and teeth.
Just like any other competition, the competitors know the risks going in. For those who have chosen to compete at this level, we can assume they have individually reconciled the risk-to-reward ratio.
The stomach-churning numbers of eating contests
For some further perspective on what the contestants are putting themselves through, we need look no further than the nutritional stats on what they are consuming during the event. Let’s take a look at the differences between eating a single dog and consuming a massive quantity of 70.
- Calories – Single: 280
- Calories – 70: 19,260
- Fat – Single: 17.5 grams
- Fat – 70: 1,225 grams
- Sodium – Single: 875 milligrams
- Sodium – 70: 61,250 milligrams
To drive those numbers home, consider that the average adult following a healthy diet should be consuming up to 2,000 calories per day. On the sodium front, a person who went over 2,300 mg of sodium per day or so would be overdoing it.
Too much sodium can open the doors to serious health problems down the road. For those who compete at this level of eating, it’s yet another factor that we would imagine has to weigh heavily on the thinking.
What happened to Takeru Kobayashi?
The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is a fun event, and the fact that we can bet on it this year makes it even better. However, that doesn’t mean that the sport is completely devoid of controversy or black marks.
Consider the case of Takeru Kobayashi, a competitor who personally transformed the sport. As mentioned, he crushed the previous record by a wide margin in 2001 by knocking down 50 dogs.
That was the first of six straight wins for Kobayashi at this event, a run that brought him a great deal of fame and put the event itself on the map. Sadly, Kobayashi’s association with the contest would take a dramatic turn in the opposite direction.
He last competed at the contest in 2009. As he explains it, he refused to sign an exclusive contract with event organizers, which he found to be too restrictive. Naturally, the relationship soured.
While he wasn’t scheduled to compete in 2010, he showed up anyway and jumped onstage after it was over. He was arrested and spent the night in jail. Event organizers have tried to mend fences and invited him back, but there has been no movement toward reconciliation on Kobayashi’s part to date.
Who are the other icons of competitive eating, and what happened to them?
Through the years, several memorable characters have taken the stage in Coney Island to take their shot at glory against the best competitive eaters in the world. Here’s a “Where are they now?” look at some of the most iconic competitors in Nathan’s history.
- Crazy Legs Conti: Born as John Conti, he has since legally changed his name to match his stage presence. Conti put himself on the map by winning a big contest in 2002 in which he downed 400 oysters. Once ranked 21st in the world by MLE, Conti has also evolved into a minor TV personality.
- Eater X: Tim Janus earned the moniker “Eater X” during his illustrious competitive eating career. He rocketed to fame by downing 50 hot dogs at the Nathan’s contest in 2009. At the time of the impressive feat, he was only the third person in the world to have ever managed that trick.
- The Black Widow: The Nathan’s contest introduced a women-only competition in 2011, and Sonya Thomas went on to win the first three of the annual events. Also known as “The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Esophagus,” her other claims to fame include eating 1.125 gallons of chili in six minutes.
Each of these competitors, and many more, have made their mark at the Nathan’s contest. We’ll wait and see if any new icons emerge at this year’s event or in the coming years.
5 people Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest made famous
The Nathan’s Famous Hot Eating Contest was once akin to a sideshow attraction. These days, it’s big business and a popular made-for-TV event that’s broadcast to the nation every Fourth of July. As such, stars have been created along the way. Here’s a look at the ones who have shined the brightest.
1. Joey Chestnut: A 13-time winner of the event, Chestnut will be looking to make it 6 straight titles in 2021.
2. Miki Sudo: She has won this event 7 times in a row and become a big name as a result. Can she make it 8 straight this year?
3. George Shea: The brains behind the contest also serves as master of ceremonies, and he has gained a great deal of fame due to some legendary introductions.
4. Sonya Thomas: Known as “The Black Widow,” Thomas won the first three women’s Nathan’s competitions and became an instant celebrity.
5. Takeru Kobayashi: This is the guy who changed the game at Nathan’s. Kobayashi began a dominant six-year run in 2001 by downing a then-unheard-of 50 dogs.
While these are the five biggest stars the event has produced to date, there’s certainly room for more. We’ll see who emerges to carry the torch — and the Mustard Belt — in future years.
5 best competitive eating nicknames of all time
The spectacle that is the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest lends itself to plenty of pomp and circumstance in normal years. A good part of the fun is the rousing introductions by organizer George Shea, who puts an interesting spin on the contestants, many of whom have outstanding nicknames.
Since this year’s event will be held without fans, some of the usual magic may be missing. However, we’ll hold out hope that it’ll still be chock full of entertainment. In the meantime, let’s take a look at some of the more memorable nicknames in the world of competitive eating.
1. Crazy Legs Conti: Formerly known as John Conti, this competitor liked his stage moniker so much that he legally changed his name to match it.
2. The Locust: Rich LeFevre has been on the competitive eating circuit since 2002, right along with his wife, who competes on the women’s side.
3. The Black Widow: Sonya Thomas made a name for herself by competing with the boys and following that up by winning the women’s crown three years in a row.
4. The Doginator: Dominick Cardo once took first place in the pickled cow tongue division of a contest known as the Glutton Bowl.
5. Beard Meets Food: Adam Moran is the real name of a YouTube sensation who holds the British record for most Big Macs consumed.
It’s pretty tough to beat the name “Beard Meets Food,” but we can safely assume that we haven’t seen the last of creative nicknames on this fun and entertaining circuit.
Best husband and wife competitive eating team
As George Shea calls it, Rich and Carlene LeFevre are the “first couple” of competitive eating. Rich has earned the nickname “The Locust” for his exploits, and Carlene has competed right by his side at several Nathan’s contests.
Remarkably, they’re both over 70 years old and have slight builds. However, that doesn’t stop them from scarfing it down. As an example, Rich set a world record by eating six pounds of Spam straight out of the can back in 2004.
The LeFevres have become quite the darlings of the competitive eating circuit. The couple has been together for 40-plus years and has noted that they’re both voracious eaters.
Most horrific things that have happened at eating contests
Thankfully, there haven’t been any tragedies at the Nathan’s contest. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with food eating contests that fly much lower under the radar. Here’s a quick look at some of the more horrifying incidents.
- 2008: Death at a steam bun-eating contest.
- 2013: Heart attack at a chili pie-eating contest.
- 2013: Death at a sausage-eating contest.
- 2017: Death during a pancake-eating contest.
- 2017: Death at a donut-eating challenge.
- 2019: Death at a taco-eating contest.
While the Nathan’s contest is a fun source of entertainment, the dangers are real, as they are for other forms of competitive eating. Put another way, leave it to the pros.