08/18/2005 12:00AM

Finding a football contest here shouldn't be too big a problem


Here in Las Vegas, there is truly a football contest for everyone.

Just want to pick the games straight up? No problem. Want to be further challenged by picking against the spread? You got it.

NFL? College? Combinations of the two? Choose your poison.

And there's one for every budget, from the high end to the free.

The top-of-the-line contests are the SuperContest at the Las Vegas Hilton and The Challenge, formerly known as The Gambler's Challenge, at the Station Casinos. The SuperContest is the most established point-spread contest in town. Contestants pick five NFL games against the spread each week, and there is a $1,500 entry fee. The Challenge has a similar format, with some marquee college games and totals for the Sunday and Monday night games thrown in, and a $1,000 entry.

After a record 411 entries in the SuperContest last year, the Hilton is expecting around 450 this year for a total purse of $675,000 and a first prize of around $270,000. The Challenge has a guaranteed first prize of $80,000, plus a new promotion that will award a one-year lease of a Mercedes ML 350 from Fletcher Jones Imports if the champion exceeds 67 percent.

The biggest change in the local football contest scene this year is the $250 buy-in Leroy's College Challenge, the first college-only contest based in Las Vegas since the Caesars Entertainment book dropped its contest two years ago.

"You can find NFL contests at just about any joint in town," said Jimmy Vaccaro, marketing director for Leroy's, "but we want to do a contest for college bettors. With so many games being played on Saturdays, it's just as big a day for the books as an NFL Sunday. With no one else doing a college point-spread contest, we wanted to fill a void in the market."

The College Challenge, in which bettors make seven plays against the spread from a list of 32 games per Saturday, has a guaranteed first prize of $25,000, which would increase if more than 200 entries are received.

Nevada gaming regulations require that all selections be made in person, but all of the three above contests have provisions for out-of-staters to authorize a local proxy as long as they both sign up in person.

For those unwilling to put up that much money, there are plenty of options to turn a little money into big cash.

The locals casinos - Station Casinos, Coast Casinos, and the Palms - continue with their $25 entry contests. The contests allow multiple entries, but the Coast and Palms cap them at five per person, and the Stations caps them at three. The Stations and Coasts have a season-long first-prize of $100,000, and the Palms gives out $25,000. They all also have weekly prizes in the tens of thousands, so they're definitely worth the shot.

There is another $25 entry contest put on in Reno by the Club Cal Neva and its satellite books. Las Vegans can also get in the contest at the Tuscany on Flamingo Road, east of the Strip. And a little-known secret is that while the Leroy's contest is the only college contest based in Las Vegas, the Club Cal Neva also has a college contest, though this one involves picking games straight up. The entry fee is $20, but if you enter both the pro and college contest, the combined price is only $35 instead of $45. The winner of the Club Cal Neva college contest will also win a trip for two to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4.

* Bally's has dropped its Eliminator contest from the past few years, so now the Texas Station's Last Man Standing is the last of the so-called "king of the hill" contests in which you pick one game each week until you're eliminated, with the survivor taking the whole pot. Texas, with a $25 entry fee, guarantees a first-place prize of at least $5,000.

* If free is the way to go, you can go to the Stardust (or other Boyd Gaming properties), the Fiesta (or its affiliated smaller Stations properties), the Hard Rock, or any Leroy's outlet.

In another change, the Hard Rock has gone from a $25 entry football and fantasy contest to the self-proclaimed "The Best Free Football Contest in Vegas" that just uses NFL point spreads (all set at half-points so there are no pushes).

The Hard Rock has its own fun twists on contest prizes. While $2,000 cash will be awarded to the person picking the most winners each week, other prizes will include a $150 comp to AJ's Steakhouse, a $150 comp to the retail store, concert tickets, slot play, and a booth for a Monday Night Football game with a $100 bar tab.

The first entry at the Fiesta is free, with a second and third entry costing $10 apiece. The Fiesta is an overlay at that price, with $10,000 being offered to the winner each week, just like the larger contests, and a seasonlong first prize of $25,000.

The other free contests don't have season-long prizes and can be entered by anyone at any time, including tourists who come in for a weekend and don't want to pay an entry fee for a contest they'll only play once.