01/30/2003 12:00AM

Books took healthy cut of Super pie

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In my first Las Vegas job, as managing editor of a local gaming paper, I was given this piece of advice from my boss: "Bookmakers in this town will sometimes downplay how much they handle, and sometimes they'll embellish the handle, but they'll always downplay how much they win. The house usually comes out on top, but they don't want to brag about it and make the losers feel bad. They want them to keep coming back."

That pretty much seems to be the case with last Sunday's Super Bowl. In talking to about a dozen bookmakers after the game, the talk was that handle was great, up 5 to 20 percent, and could approach the record of $77.25 million wagered in 1998. The consensus was also that it was pretty close to a break-even year because of all the money on the Buccaneers and how the Raider money never really showed up.

When the Nevada Gaming Control Board released its unaudited figures this week, however, the story was a little different. This year's statewide Super Bowl handle was $71,693,032, a mere .025 percent increase over last year's handle.

The biggest surprise is that the books held (or won) $5,264,963 of that handle, or 7.3 percent. That's the second-highest win in the past seven years, second only to the record $11 million the books won in the Ravens' win over the Giants two years ago.

NFC favored in Pro Bowl

More football?

You bet (though some people will question your sanity if you're betting on the Pro Bowl or even the Hula Bowl this weekend).

The NFC, fresh off the Bucs' dominating performance in the Super Bowl, is a 2 1/2-point favorite over the AFC in Sunday's Pro Bowl in Honolulu. The total is 45.

That total is relatively low for an all-star game. Major league baseball, the NBA, and NHL usually have high-scoring free-for-alls in their all-star contests. The odds for Sunday's NHL All-Star Game hadn't been posted as of press time Thursday, but you can expect the total to be well in the teens.

If you're really looking for a lot of scoring, and aren't interesting in wagering your hard-earned money on exhibitions, the Arena Football League begins its regular season this weekend. There was one game slated for Friday night, with the Tampa Bay Storm favored by 4 1/2 over the Carolina Cobras. The one game Saturday has the Buffalo Destroyers and Grand Rapid Rampage at pick-em, and then there are six games Sunday, highlighted by the defending champion San Jose SaberCats at Arizona Rattlers in another pick-em contest, and the debut of the Las Vegas Gladiators, a 4-point dog at the Los Angeles Avengers. NBC is scheduled to televise 70 games this year, added to fan (and gambling interest).

Las Vegas casinos will again book the league's games, though the limits are low ($500 or $1,000 at most books).

New Terrible's handicapping contest

During the football season, Nevada's race and sports books don't have to do too much to draw a crowd. There always seems to be a steady stream of customers. But once football ends, we start to see more promotions to help draw the customers in.

Terrible's Hotel and Casino, located east of the Strip at Flamingo and Paradise Roads, is the first to add a handicapping contest.

The contest will be held every Thursday, starting Feb. 6, on the last six races on the day's Southern California racing card. The entry fee is $10 with a maximum of five per person. All entries are returned to players in the form of prizes, with 75 percent of the purse going to the winner, 15 percent to second place, and 10 percent to third. Points are based on $2 across-the-board mutuel payoffs.

"We did a contest last summer, and it went over very well," said Thomas Stauffer, the Terrible's race and sports book supervisor. "Contests like these are a lot of fun and give players another way to make money, and a lot of people stopped by our book that otherwise might not have. We'll run this every Thursday through the Del Mar meet, and then reassess it at that time."

Next Thursday also will see the third installment of the Ultimate Quinella Racing Contest, which is conducted the first Thursday of every month at Arizona Charlie's West. The entry fee is $10 and players pick two horses in each race (plus an alternate) at Santa Anita. The contest is quinellas only, and the person compiling the highest score receives $1,200, with $500 for second and $300 for third. Drawings for $250 cash are also held after the third and sixth races.

Sam's Town used to start its "Free and Easy" contest on Saturdays once the football season ended, but Norm Kelley, the race book manager there, said something different in the works. Watch these pages for updates.

Online contest uses Derby futures

Las Vegas casinos no longer have a monopoly on handicapping contests. In fact, you don't even have to go to a racetrack or offtrack betting parlor to compete against other horseplayers.

Letitride.com is sponsoring the 2003 Kentucky Derby Future Book Challenge. Between now and April 29, players can add up to two dozen 3-year-olds to their stable, and then before the Derby they must reduce their entry to four runners. Points are awarded based on the mutuel payoffs on Derby Day, but they are also multiplied by the future book odds that the player locks in when they are added to your stable. The contest uses the Bally's/Paris future book odds set by John Avello. Prizes will be awarded to the top 50 finishers, with the top five winning accommodations and invitations for two to Bally's/Paris 2003 Breeders' Cup VIP Party in Las Vegas, plus Turf Club points to be used for comps. Full details can be found at letitride.com/ballys.

Other online contests are being held at elhandicap.com, a bilingual site that has $100 buy-in contests for members and is planning to add free contests soon. Robert Bertolucci, a veteran tournament player from San Mateo, Calif., won the first contest last weekend. A head-to-head tournament is being scheduled for March 1, featuring the Santa Anita Handicap, with another $100 buy-in event slated for April 12.

Nevada's Super Bowl handle (1994-2003)

YearHandleResultWin (Loss)Hold %
2003$71,693,032Tampa Bay 48, Oakland 21$5,264,9637.3
200271,513,304New England 20, St. Louis 172,331,6073.3
200167,661,425Baltimore 34, NY Giants 711,002,63616.3
200071,046,751St. Louis 23, Tennessee 164,237,9786.0
199975,986,520Denver 34, Atlanta 192,906,6013.8
199877,253,246Denver 31, Green Bay 24472,0330.6
199770,853,211Green Bay 35, New England 212,265,7013.2
199670,907,801Dallas 27, Pittsburgh 177,126,14510.1
199569,591,818San Francisco 49, San Diego 26(396,674)-0.6
199454,483,221Dallas 30, Buffalo 137,481,54113.7

Source: Nevada Gaming Control Board