11/22/2007 1:00AM

Contests offer a way to win big

EmailLAS VEGAS – Give contests your attention since they're a way to win bigP

As regular readers of this column know, I write about handicapping contests a lot. A big part of that is because they are a big part of the Las Vegas race and sports betting beat.

But the other reason I write about them so much is that I firmly believe they're a great way for bettors to maximize profits.

Let's say a horse player usually bets $20 to win and might make 25 plays over a two- or three-day period, or about $500 in action. Even if he hits a 40-1 longshot and a couple of 20-1 prices, he can only make a couple of thousand dollars, maximum, even on a hot streak. Instead, he could put that $500 in a handicapping tournament like the ones at the Orleans twice a year and if it happens to be his day (or two or three), he can win $100,000.

It's the same way in football contests.

Two weeks ago, I won $10,000 in a football contest at the Palms Casino here in Vegas. I went 13-1 in picking straight-up winners on one of my six contest cards and won the Monday night tiebreaker. I did well in my personal betting, but certainly didn't approach 10K. This came on the heels of winning $1,250 the previous week in a fantasy contest held by the Rampart and Cannery.

An ancillary benefit of winning a contest is the accolades you receive in addition to the cash. If I were to tell people how much money I get for writing this article, their reaction would be, "That's nice." But when they learn I won $10,000 in a football contest, especially one that cost just $25 per entry, they light up and tell me how impressive it is. It's true what Eddie Felson, played in the movie "The Color of Money" by Paul Newman, said: "Money won is twice as sweet as money earned."

Of course, money won in these contests is earned, both in time spent handicapping and in driving around to all the casinos. But I feel it's definitely worth it

Over the past seven years, I've spent approximately $2,000 a year entering various football contests around town and have cashed out for more than $40,000.

Now, most people that have followed my football picks over the years can tell you I've had some very good years, around 60 percent winners, but also some dreadful years, below 50 percent (and that's where I've hovering this NFL season at 28-28-1 on my ViewFromVegas.com website). So, it's not like I'm the best or most consistent handicapper in the world. The key is that when I'm losing, I'm just losing those bets. But when I have those weeks where everything comes together (especially two weeks ago when seven of the 14 games were won outright by the underdogs), that makes up for a lot of losing weeks.

You gotta play to win, so I advise everyone to take advantage of any opportunities at their disposal, whether it's these contests in Vegas, or office pools or online contests.

Other football contest winners

I'm not alone in making scores this football season as there are prizes of $10,000 or more each week at the Coast Casinos and Station Casinos in addition to the Palms, and plenty of smaller winners at other properties.

The biggest contest win so far this season in Vegas came last week when Keith Morse won $74,850 in the Last Man Standing contest at the Station Casinos. That contest cost $25 per entry (with those who bought three getting a fourth free) and drew a field of 3,882. Each contestant picks one game a week against the spread with winners advancing and losers eliminated. Heading into Week 11, Morse, who played out of Sunset Station in Henderson, was one of two players alive.

In a high-end contest, a handicapper who goes by the alias Sundown won $15,000 in the Glory of the Gridiron contest, which cost $1,000 to enter, as the leader after the sixth week of the season. There is another $15,000 prize for the leader after this upcoming weekend, the 12th of the season, and Sundown is tied with Dallas Mike 1 for the top spot. Both of their six NFL plays will be available late at Harrah's properties and on the football contest page at ViewFromVegas.com.

* Leroy's sports books have a new college basketball contest starting in January.

New opportunities for horseplayers

For horse tournament players, the main goals are to win the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (to be held at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas on Jan. 25-26) or the Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans (the same weekend on Jan. 24-26).

Both have a qualifying tournament coming up in town.

On Thursday, the Orleans is hosting the Horseplayers Holiday tournament with a $100 entry fee. It will have a win-place format with no mandatory races and the top finishers will earn entries into the Horseplayer World Series.

Then, next Saturday, Dec. 1, Green Valley Ranch will hold an NHC qualifier with the same format that was used at the Red Rock last month ($250 entry fee, 15 mythical $2 win-and-place wagers, with eight races being mandatory as picked by GVR staff and the other seven being player's choice). The top two finishers will receive NHC berths.

And it was announced last week that the NHC will hit the milestone of a $1 million purse with a cool $500,000 to the champion. Now that's a prize worth shooting for.

* For those who can't make it to town for those events (or do play and don't qualify), there are still some tournaments in December and even the Last Chance Tournament at Red Rock on Jan. 23 (the full list is at http://drf.com/nhc/2007/nhc.html). The most ambitious of these appears to be the online contest called the TwinSpires.com Biggest Vegas Qualifier Ever. The Dec. 15 tourney, which has a $250 entry fee and allows two entries per person, will offer NHC spots to the top 15 finishers. The winner of this qualifier also will be eligible for a $1 million bonus if he or she goes on to win the NHC. In addition, the contest will award five spots into the Horse Racing World Series. This contest is open only to those who live in states that allow wagering accounts with twinspires.com, so check the site for complete rules.