Timing was right for college to go solo

Aug 23, 2005 1:32 AM

The fascination with handicapping contests has reached epic proportions this year, and the fans are the true winners.

The Stardust Invitational spawned Leroy’s inaugural College Football Handicapping Championship. GamingToday’s Bookies Battle has over the years featured over 60 of the top sports book managers/oddsmakers in a head-to-dead duel to determine who is the best over 17 weeks — documented.

The Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook contest is considered the creme de la creme, with a $1,500 entry fee and national acclaim for the victor each year. There is an attempt for a World Championship of Handicapping contest through the Internet and based overseas that boasts a $2.2 million purse and $1 million first prize.

These projects have generated increased interest as a ripple effect from the incredible popularity of poker, which smartly reaped the benefits of the World Series of Poker by developing a World Poker Tour and numerous celebrity TV events and All Star

competitions.

Five years ago, nobody outside the inner circle of poker knew Doyle Brunson from Popeye Doyle or Phil Hellmuth from Phil Hartman. Much less Annie Duke from Patty Duke. Jennifer Tilly was recognized for her physical assets and not the gold

bracelet around her wrist for winning a major pro poker championship.

And so it used to be for Leroy’s grand attempt at establishing a major college football handicapping contest that will float on its own from the NFL and not sink like the one at the old Showboat did 15 years ago.

"They just couldn’t handle it back then," said famed handicapper Jimmy Vaccaro, who along with Leroy’s guru Vic Salerno has nurtured the collegiate contest back to life.

"I was never really a contest person," Vaccaro said during a summit meeting last month at Panevino’s, which could go down as The Sands version of hosting Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Peter Lawford during one of their shindigs.

"I believe a college football contest is long overdue," Vaccaro said. "This is a contest for the people. College didn’t market the game 15 years ago like is does now. There was no ESPN. If we can get 300 entries, our next step is local TV."

For now, weekly radio will do just fine. The Riviera and KDWN (720 AM) will host a weekly show featuring the contest and some of the top handicappers in Vegas from 8-9 p.m. each Friday before the games.

It was Salerno and Leroy’s that sponsored the successful college basketball handicapping contest last winter at the Riviera. Salerno hopes college football will become even more profitable.

"The numbers have been going up in sports gambling thanks to the poker," Salerno said. "I like what we tried to do with the college basketball contest. Maybe we can get big enough so there would be satellite tournaments to enter in order to make it into the final contest, similar to the World Series of Poker."

If nothing else, Leroy’s college football contest has added flavor. And, we’re not complaining.