Long season spiced upby contests

Aug 16, 2005 5:59 AM

One of the highlights of the football season is the opportunity to play in a number of contests offered by Nevada sports books.

Not only do contests give players a chance to compete for significant cash prizes, they’re a way to budget a season’s worth of play into a manageable entry fee.

Moreover, some contests, such as GamingToday’s Bookies Battle and the Stardust’s Invitational, give bettors insight into how top professionals make their selections, thus allowing them to handicap the handicappers.

Topping the list of spectator contests is GT’s Bookies Battle, now in its 20th season. Perhaps the most difficult of all contests, the Bookies Battle requires Nevada bookmakers to pick the point-spread winner of every regular season NFL game, nearly a week before it is played.

The $1,000 prize awarded to the state’s top bookmaker doesn’t compare to the prestige of out-handicapping the state’s top odds-makers.

Last year, Johnny Spot from the Barbary Coast won the Bookies Battle with a 157-99 win-loss record. His 61.3 percent winning edge matched the 61.3 percent posted by Casey Maloni (Aladdin) in 2003.

The win was Spot’s second in three years; he won the 2002 edition with a 59.6 percent margin.

Other top performers in last year’s Bookies Battle were Will French (California Hotel), 60.5 percent, Bill Fogg (Flamingo Laughlin), 59.3 percent, Larry Weiss (Santa Fe Station), 59.3 percent and John Boyer (Edgewater), 58.9 percent.

The consensus picks of all Nevada bookmakers have faired well in recent years. Last year, the consensus won 57.8 percent of its selections, slightly lower than 2003’s superb 58.6 percent.

The Stardust Invitational is another contest that has become a popular event during the football season.

The Invitational features 16 top handicappers in head-to-head, sudden death competition, with a $10,000 grand prize awaiting the winner.

The contest is held at the Stardust sports book on Friday nights, beginning on September 9, and broadcast live on KDWN 720 radio. Contestants must pick seven college or pro teams (sides or totals), from the Stardust’s rotation board, along with a best bet.

This season, the action kicks off with last year’s champ, "Big Al" McMordie squaring off against 2003 champion, David Stratton, managing editor of GamingToday.

Other contestants include handicappers Dave Malensky, Tim Trushel and Andy Iskoe.

Like the Bookies Battle, the Stardust Invitational in recent years has produced solid betting information for spectators. The winning percentage of contestants has consistently hovered in the high 50-percent range, with winners McMordie and Stratton reaching or topping 60 percent.

Among the contests open to the public, the Las Vegas Hilton’s SuperContest and Station Casinos’ Challenge also attract plenty of spectators who want to know what the "serious" players are picking.

The $1,500 and $1,000 entry fees into the Hilton and Station contests, respectively, typically attract the premier handicappers and sports bettors, thus making their selections meaningful to everyday players.

"We always get a great mix of professionals and amateurs," said Jay Kornegay, the Hilton’s executive vice president of race and sports. "Historically, this is the contest that the pros want to win for their resumes."

Contestants must pick five NFL games a week (sides or totals). For his or her effort, the winner receives 40 percent of all the entry fees, which will range from $500,000 to $675,000.

Las Vegas’ other big football contest is the Challenge, which requires a $1,000 entry. Contestants also must pick five games a week (sides or totals) from a list supplied by Station.

The Challenge’s top prize is at least $80,000, but there are other bonuses to pique the player’s palette. If a player picks more than 67 percent winners for the season, he or she will drive off in a new Mercedes ML 350 provided by Fletcher Jones Imports.

In addition, there’s an Early Bird/Beat the Station Casinos’ Bookmaker provision in which contestants who sign up before 5 p.m., Sept. 2, and finish ahead of the Station Bookmaker for the season, will be eligible for a $10,000 bonus (aggregate) prize.

There are about a dozen other contests available at Nevada race and sports books. They will be listed in detail in next week’s College Preview edition, part 2.