Royal Oak man wins $1 million in Super Bowl bet

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Royal Oak resident Dominic Mirabella, 39, is $1 million richer after his winning bet on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI through a football app, the company announced on Facebook and Twitter Sunday.

Dominic Mirabella, bottom right, with his wife, Addie and children Holland, upper right and MacArthur

Mirabella’s story, previously reported by Channel 7/WXYZ, wasn’t a result of betting one game properly, but dozens of games, from the first week of the NFL regular season through the Super Bowl. Mirabella won the money using an app called FourPlay Football, a Birmingham-based company. This required successful bets against the company's unique "spread” in four games a week, all 17 weeks of the regular season, as well as games throughout the playoffs, 81 in all.

Some "three to four thousand" people use the FourPlay Football app, co-founder Jeff Johnson said, and about 85 percent of them are outside of Michigan.

Johnson told The Detroit News Monday that Mirabella had to be lucky as well as good to win. In week three, Mirabella made his move too late. He had to buy in using a "late picker power up" to participate. Late picks are made randomly by the app. Mirabella still went 4 for 4 on those random picks, Johnson said.

But the win drew immediate skeptics.

After The Detroit News posted its story Monday, the Barstool Sports website responded with a message casting doubt on the win.

“Nope. I mean there is a zero percent chance you can go 81-0 against the spread picking games in the NFL. None,” the post read in part. “I can’t even hit a four team parlay in the NFL without getting burned on the last leg by some (expletive) play. ...”

Others weighed in via email after reading the story, also saying the odds of such a win were beyond fathoming.

Said Twitter user @JimMWeber: "This Detroit dude went 81-0 picking NFL games this season — AGAINST THE SPREAD. HOW?!?!?!"

When the founders return from Vegas, Johnson said, FourPlay will deliver the first check for $100,000. Those funds come from the company's angel investors, Johnson said, not through contest insurance. There are no user fees for participants, though "power ups," such as the late pick power up Mirabella used, do cost money. The company is funded by 10 individuals, Johnson said, whose identities are "confidential."

Commissioners of grand prize winners also get $100,000, though in Mirabella's case that won't happen. The commissioner in his league is FourPlay co-founder CJ Karchon, who is ineligible.

A 15-year veteran of fantasy football, Mirabella said FourPlay has changed the way he watches football. While most fantasy football is about the individual performance of offensive players, picking teams against the spread (which is padded by 14 points during the regular season, 10 points during early playoff rounds, 6 points during conference championship games and not padded at all for the Super Bowl) is more like the binary win-or-lose fan experience he grew up on.

"It gets you back into rooting for teams again, rather than stats," Johnson said.

Mirabella was a fan of Michigan football growing up, but also a “frustrated” Detroit Lions fan who said he has come to “adopt” the Patriots, led by quarterback Tom Brady, as a favorite team.

Though Michigan was his rooting interest, the 1996 Rochester High School grad went to college at West Point.

Though the Atlanta Falcons’ high-powered offense was tempting after a dominant 44-21 win over the Green Bay Packers, when it came time to make the most important fantasy football pick of his life, Mirabella couldn’t bring himself to pick against Tom Brady.

Johnson was eating at a Royal Oak diner about a week ago when he bumped into Mirabella. After their conversation, Johnson said, "I thought for sure he was picking Atlanta."

Seeing the New England pick come in shocked him, he said.

As the postseason wore on and it looked more possible that Mirabella would win big, FourPlay's founders met with him.

"We wanted to explain the terms of use" — winnings are distributed over the course of 10 years, not in one lump sum — "so he didn't go to Vegas and make a $500,000 bet to hedge," Johnson said.

FourPlay does not sanction side bets, but Mirabella's league spiced things up on its own, said participant Bill Esguerra, 35. Each of the league's 20 players put up $10 a week, and each player who went four for four got a $10 payout from everyone else in the league. There were times, Esguerra said, when Mirabella was the only winner.

Once, everyone else in the league won but Esguerra, he said, and he had to make $190 in payouts.

Seeing Mirabella win was "surreal," Esguerra said. Mirabella might not have heard about the league if not for Esguerra, who met Karchon and Johnson while golfing at Red Run Golf Club. They mentioned FourPlay and Esguerra invited his friends to join. Mirabella was one of those friends.

"It's great to be a connector in this situation," Esguerra said.

He didn't feel so good when the Patriots were down 25 points and his friend was on the verge of ending the season 80-1, without a thing to show for it. Even when the game went into overtime, Esguerra was worried the Patriots would win it with a field goal, matching the three-point spread. In FourPlay Football, "a push is as good as a loss," Esguerra said.

"A Patriots touchdown is the only way he could've won," Esguerra added. Now that he has, all Esguerra wants from Mirabella, he joked, is "a dinner and a driver" for their next round on the links.

Mirabella, a financial planner, said retirement is not an option and that he would be going to work on Monday. Managing windfalls is part of his business, but not a task he will handle himself. He will work with his own financial adviser — “you’re too emotional with your own money,” he said when asked why he doesn’t manage the windfall himself — and hopes to both grow the winnings and donate some to his favorite charities.

Of the FourPlay app, Mirabella said he's not only appreciative of his winnings, but that it’s a local company. The sentiment was echoed by Johnson, who said having someone win the biggest prize is good for business, but having that person be local is even better. Johnson, 32, is a graduate of Rochester Adams High School, while Karchon, 31, graduated from Detroit Country Day School.

If there is any regret, Mirabella said, it’s that he didn’t go live on Facebook after the win.

Better that than the regret of picking against Tom Brady in the biggest game of his career.

“It would’ve ripped my heart out to go against Brady and lose,” Mirabella said.