06/15/2003 11:00PM

Contest rewards the real players

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The ulterior motive of every place that holds a handicapping tournament is to get players in the door so they'll also bet "live" money at the windows. But one of the common complaints of tournament directors is that many players pay their entry fee, fill out their contest slips, and don't put any money through the windows.

Steve Fierro, who coordinates the handicapping tournaments at the Reno Hilton, doesn't have that problem with his Summer Showdown tournament. Players pay a $200 entry fee and then have to make $300 in parimutuel wagers on each of the two days of the tournament. Standings are then determined by which contestants build the biggest bankroll.

The third annual Summer Showdown takes place this Friday and Saturday at the spacious Hilton race book, near the Reno airport. Entries will be taken until Friday morning, though only those who signed up by the early-bird deadline of June 7 are eligible for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship berths that go to the top four finishers.

"We had 93 play the tourney two years ago, and 103 last year," Fierro said Sunday, "but I just signed up my 125th player - it's definitely because of the NTRA - and I'm hoping to reach 140. We have our regular players who always play our tournaments, but we're also seeing lots of new faces just because it's a qualifier."

Contestants are able to play any track from coast to coast, and any type of bet with the exception of the pick six and the place nine. Exotics must be made in $2 increments, "so a player can't buy a race," Fierro said.

With only the $200 entry fee, the prize money in this tournament is modest, but with the "live" winnings, it can still be quite lucrative. Last year, Max Pescatori of Las Vegas won the top prize of $8,240, but he also collected $7,843 from his contest plays, turning his $800 overall investment into more than $16,000.

Furyk makes U.S. Open shut case

Jim Furyk isn't as flamboyant as Tiger Woods, but he did a pretty good imitation as he ran away with the U.S. Open title over the weekend. Furyk won by three strokes over Stephen Leahy, but it wasn't as close as the final margin appears. He bogeyed the last two holes as he coasted to victory.

"We just about broke even on the tournament," said Jeff Sherman sports book supervisor and golf oddsmaker at the Palms. "Furyk opened at 25-1 and got bet down to 20-1, so those bettors were happy, but we fared well on the odds to win the tournament, we won the head-to-head matchups, but we lost on the proposition wagers."

Sherman said the unusually low scoring, especially by U.S. Open standards, the first two days of the tournament threw everything out of whack.

"We lost because we made numbers based on how tough U.S. Open courses traditionally play," he said. "The first two days it looked like a normal Tour stop. We had the number of players to finish under par at 2 1/2. The course played tougher as the weekend went on, and when all was said and done, there were only four players under par, but if the course had played normal the first two days it would have been only Furyk and Leaney."

Sherman said another prop that cost him was the winning score, which was set at 276 1/2 (Furyk shot a 272), and the lowest round, which was set at 65 1/2 (Tom Watson and Brett Quigley shot 65's Thursday, then several others went under Friday before Vijay Singh completing his round of 63).

"Anything geared toward scoring went under," Sherman said. "In some individual player props for their first-round scores, we lucked out because people were betting some players to go over because they expected scoring to be high."

Looking ahead, the Palms has Woods as an 11-4 favorite to win the British Open, which will take place July 17-20 at the Royal St. George's Golf Club. Ernie Els is the second choice at 10-1, with Furyk in a group at 15-1 with Vijay Singh and Mike Weir.

NBA finals underwhelming

The NBA finals ended Sunday with the Spurs beating the Nets 4 games to 2. It had one of the lowest television ratings in the past 20 years and many complained about the quality of play.

But bettors who were betting the under were sorry to see it end. They cleaned up as five of the six games finished under the betting total, with the lone exception being the series opener, which needed 57 points in the fourth quarter to barely squeak over the number.

In the remaining games, the under easily covered by an average of 16.8 points per game. The only other game that came close to going over was game 5 when the Spurs won 93-83. The total was 179. Otherwise, games 2, 3, 4, and 6 were under by an average of more than 20 points per game.

San Antonio went 5-1 against the spread in the finals. The only game in which the winner did not cover was last Wednesday in the Nets' game 4 victory, when they were 2-point favorites and leading 77-74 in the closing seconds. The Spurs' Manu Ginobli missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer, and Tim Duncan put in the rebound at the buzzer to make the final 77-76.

The Spurs are the 7-2 co-second choice, along with the Kings, behind the Lakers (2-1) to win next year's NBA title. No East team cracks the top four and the Mavericks are next at 8-1, followed by the Nets at 12-1.

* Local handicapper Jerry Jacovitz (creator of the "Jerry J's Power Page" which is distributed free at several Las Vegas race books) is hosting free seminars on Hollywood Park's cards for the next two Fridays. This Friday, he will be at the Rampart Casino on the west side of town at 5:30 p.m. Next Friday, June 27, he will be at the Stratosphere, also at 5:30 p.m.