Even Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest has to account for the new era of sports betting in the United States. After a mishap counting “hot dogs eaten” at the biggest Major League Eating (MLE) event of the year, executives have vowed to add the latest technology to the event next year.
Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest began in 1916 with contests most years since then, but the count this year had major errors. Gamblers on the eating contest had over/under bets affected, requiring the MLE to address how counts are made.
Rick Shea president of Major League Eating and color commentator on ESPN’s broadcast of the 92nd Annual Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, said “yesterday’s incident might be the impetus to bring competitive eating into the digital age.”
Miscounted Joey Chestnut’s Count
The hot dog-and-bun count for 11-time Mustard Belt winner Joey Chestnut was listed at 64 at the end of the year’s most famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, which takes place annually on the Fourth of July in Brooklyn, New York.
After the event was over, organizers realized that Joey Chestnut had eaten a record 74 hot dogs. Two plates containing 5 hot dogs apiece had not been counted. Because Joey Chestnut had eaten 70 hot dogs in 2016 and 72 in 2017, various Las Vegas bookmakers had set the over/under in the 70 to 72 hot dog range.
The count on competitor Carmen Cincotti also was incorrect. Cincotti’s unofficial count was 45, but the recount gave Cincotti 64 hot dogs.
Offshore Bookmakers’ Over/Under Bets
Bettors who had wagered on the over proposition at first found themselves the losers of a bet, then were awarded the win after Chestnut’s total was increased. Worse, the bettors who had bet the under thought they had won, only to find their winning bet taken away from them on the recount.
Readers might think the betting numbers on such an event was negligible, but the turnover on the 2018 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is equivalent to the turnover on an average MLB baseball game, according to offshore sportsbook operator Pinnacle. ESPN reported that offshore sports betting operations were taking in as much as $1 million on the hot dog eating contest.
Chip Technology at Hotdog Eating Contest?
Rick Shea said that the popularity of the event may have contributed to the confusion. Under the rules of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, at least 20 people compete each year. The defending champion is invited, along with the winners of regional competitions that year. Also, two wildcards are included; the wildcards’ are decided by the two national competitors with the “highest two average qualifier scores without winning a single qualifier”. Finally, the MLE can hand out a special invitation, if it so chooses — which has led to some controversies.
The MLE president said having 20 competitors on the stage at once was the main cause for organizational chaos. Rick Shea said, “I doubt we can put the microchip on the tongue or in the esophagus. Some sort of monitoring associated with the plate weight would be more practical.”
Shea claimed that a combination of chip technology and better organization would keep the same confusion from happening in the future. He added, “There’s no doubt we have to have fewer people up there. It contributes to the confusion.”
2001-06: Kobayashi’s Reign as Champion
The popularity of competitors like Joey Chestnut and Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobayashi put Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest into the wider public consciousness in the United States. The 5’8″, 128-lb Kobayashi astounded the organizers of the 2001 event by eating 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes. The event’s counters ran out of premade signs to keep count, so they astonished organizers had to track Kobayashi’s record-breaking feat with handwritten signs.
From 2001 to 2006, Kobayashi won Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest six consecutive times, while breaking the hot dog eating record on 3 of those occasions. Kobayashi seemed unbeatable, until he faced Joey Chestnut in the 2007 competition.
Kobayashi v. Chestnut
Prior to the 2007 contest, Kobayashi announced he had seriously injured his jaw and could only open it the width of a fingertip. Despite the injury, he ate 63 hot dogs, though he came up short to Joey Chestnut, who ate 66. Thus the biggest rivalry in competitive eating history began.
Over the next three competitive eating seasons, Kobayashi and Chestnut squared off in a variety of Major League Eating contests. Takeru Kobayashi had the advantage on Joey Chestnut when eating pizza, tacos, and hamburgers. Yet every year, Joey Chestnut took the prize at the big event: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.
92nd Annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest
After the 2009 competition, Kobayashi split with Major League Eating and stopped competing in the annual contest. He conducted several publicity stunts, from rushing the stage in 2010 to staging his own videotaped hot dog exhibition at the same time in 2011.
Meanwhile, Joey Chestnut, a 6’1″, 230-lb competitor, continued his domination in the Nathan’s annual contest. Joey Chestnut now has won 11 of the past 12 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contests, including an 8-year back-to-back streak from 2007 to 2014.
Only Matt “Megatoad” Stonie (2015 winner) has defeated Joey Chestnut during his streak. Chestnut remains the #1 rated competitive eater, while Stonie is rated 3rd in the world as of 2018. Kobayashi, now 40 years old, remains a celebrity in the competitive eating world.