Nugget raises bar on grid contests

Aug 24, 2004 4:06 AM

The SuperContest at the LV Hilton, with its $1,500 entry fee has always attracted the very best handicappers. Now, the Golden Nugget has upped the ante.

The $5,000 entry fee was enough to attract past Hilton champ Tony Salinas as the first to sign up last week. Nugget Race and Sports Manager Chris Andrews figures 100 entries are needed to break even in costs. Now, it’s 99 and we assume by today, much less.

"This type of contest is worth a year of advertising on a 900 service," said famed handicapper Jimmy Vaccaro. "You can’t quantify what this means. The Nugget is bringing football contests into a new generation. Payoffs are bigger and it’s great to see the casinos reaching deeper into their pockets to make things more attractive. You know, $100 grand 20 years ago is not like 100Gs today."

Salinas is a story in his own. He claims to be the only man sent out here by a federal judge (in 1978) for five years that decided to stay. Sounds good, whether true or not.

"I was gambling a little too high in San Antonio," Salinas said. "The FBI, Texas Department of Public Safety and the IRS made an example out of me. I was arrested, had a probation officer, the whole works."

Instead of complaining, Salinas was revived. He entered a bunch of contests out here and eventually bought a home. Then came the Hilton’s big pot.

"I tied for the Hilton title a few years ago and was hired by a gentleman, who wanted to pay me $2,000 a week to pick games."

The Nugget also has a $1 million parlay for all of us that can’t afford a contest with a hefty entry fee. Of course, you have a better chance dating Pam Anderson than hitting 20-for-20 against the spread to collect the million. But, for a couple of dollars, it’s worth the thrill.

"These contests need a three to five year maturity date for a full assessment," Vaccaro said. "But this is a great thing for Vegas and sports betting in general."

Plaza sweet

Barrick Gaming is opening the door to progressive and aggressive books at the Plaza and Las Vegas Club.

"We purchased new computers, which has allowed us to make some bold changes," said Walt Wilczewski, racebook manager at the Plaza. "We are going to be the hub, but both here and the Las Vegas Club will be working together. It’s just a matter of finishing up the wiring."

The new sports book at the Plaza is expected to be ready this week, in time for the upcoming NFL season.

"We will be putting out independent lines and doing numbers," Wilczewski said. "Some ideas will work, some won’t. But the owners are open-minded and have said the sky is the limit."

The Plaza wants to makes lines that would allow customers to bet December football games in October, or sooner.

"We’re also going more into NASCAR and soccer than before," Wilczewski said. "It’s a new area for us, a feeling out process. We’ll let the customers tell us how we’re doing and we will listen."

Wilczewski said that Barrick’s involvement at the Plaza shows that downtown is on the way back.

"People are spending more time down here now," he said. "They’re not just coming and going. The type of clientele is rising and we feel real good about the future."