05/24/2001 12:00AM

Another old-school guy walks into sunset


Back in March, Muggsy Muniz and Ed Weigand were having a drink during the Suncoast Invitational handicapping tournament. Weigand, the race book manager at the Flamingo Reno, said, "It's kind of hard to watch someone else taking care of your baby, huh?" Muniz, the former race book director for the Suncoast's parent company, Coast Resorts, replied, "You bet it is."

Well, now Weigand and Muniz have something in common.

Weigand was fired by the Flamingo Reno on May 11 and he will have to watch his tournament go on without him. The Challenge VII Horse Handicapping Tournament is slated for July 19-21 and will be run by Steve Fierro of the Reno Hilton.

Weigand this week said the official reason he was given for his dismissal was that management was upset he made negative comments about the hotel.

Weigand told customers earlier this month that he was having a problem with hotel president Bill Wright over the availability of rooms for the upcoming tournament. Weigand had promised his tournament players that they would not have to stay at other hotels, as had happened at last summer's tournament. Weigand said he felt management was making him break a promise to his players and was outspoken about it.

Flamingo publicity director Meg Mincolla declined comment Thursday. Park Place Entertainment, which owns the hotel, has a longstanding policy of not commenting on personnel matters.

Muniz, who guided the operations at the Barbary Coast, Gold Coast, and the Orleans, also had issues over rooms for his tournament. Last summer, Orleans general manager Horst Dziura told Muniz that he wasn't giving him clearance for hotel rooms and conference space for this spring's National Handicapping Challenge, the biggest tournament in the country in entries and prize money. That effectively killed the spring tournament, and Muniz, after taking an extended leave of absence, left.

Both situations demonstrate the changing casino landscape in Nevada. Muniz had a reputation for taking care of his players with comps, and they repaid him by putting record amounts through the betting windows. Weigand used a similar emphasis on customer service (even coming to Las Vegas to recruit some of the top tournament players to try his event) that made his twice-a-year tourneys second in number of entries only to the Orleans tournament.

But now corporate America has taken over, and a lot of players don't think that's a good thing.

Talk to any old-timer in Las Vegas and it won't be long before he waxes philosophical about the "good old days," when players got free rooms and meals just for the asking.

Nowadays, you can still get comps, but usually not until a supervisor or pit boss takes your players card and checks the computer to determine how much you've played and for how long. A formula is then used that determines how much the casino is willing to comp the player.

Old-school guys like Muniz and Weigand weren't into crunching numbers like that. If they knew you were a regular player, they weren't going to nickel and dime you. That way of thinking isn't as prevalent now.

The tournaments that Muniz and Weigand built are continuing on the solid foundations they set. Rick Herron and the rest of the Coast Resorts staff have carried on Muniz's legacy, as the last National Handicapping Challenge set a record with 936 entries in October and the Suncoast Invitational had 307 despite a $1,000 entry fee. And, after skipping its usual spring date, the NHC is being re-instated as the Championship at The Orleans on Aug. 15-17 and will return to its twice-a-year format in 2002.

At the Flamingo Reno, Fierro will use the same format and prize schedule as in the past. In addition, Winter Challenge VIII is already being planned for early February.

In the meantime, Muniz and Weigand are weighing their options. Both know they have loyal players that will follow them whether they land at other casinos or start independent tournaments of their own.

It's a challenge to their successors to make sure that hospitality didn't leave with Muniz and Weigand.