09/06/2007 12:00AM

Football pickers pay to play Money Talks


Do you remember the 2000 Super Bowl commercial where the tough cowboys are herding cats? It was a very memorable visual ad (bestsuperbowlcommercials.blogspot.com) as the cats were running wild throughout the West while the cowboys tried to corral them.

Well, that's how John Salerno, the contest director at Leroy's sports books, feels as he's been putting together the field of 32 for this football season's Money Talks Invitational football handicapping contest, which begins next Friday.

The competition, with a stiff $5,000 entry fee (hence the Money Talks title) features head-to-head, single-elimination competitions each Friday, but unlike last year when there were 16 total entrants going in first-round matchups over eight weeks, Salerno has had to put on his cowboy hat to fit in 16 first-round matchups over the same eight-week period. In addition, while the Fitzgerald's and Riviera casinos will split hosting duties in Las Vegas, there will be four first-round matchups held at John Ascuaga's Nugget in Reno-Sparks in the northern part of the state.

"It's very difficult to coordinate 32 different people from all over the country to fly into two different cities over the first eight weeks of the football season when everyone is really busy," said Salerno.

Once Salerno gets all the contestants in the stable, so to speak, he'll hand over the reins to John Kelly, who hosts the radio shows on which the contestants will offer their top seven college or pro plays off the betting board with a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker.

Next Friday's opening match will take place at the downtown Fitzgerald's from 2-3 p.m. Pacific time and air on KENO AM-1460 in Las Vegas, KPLY AM-630 in Reno, and at americanwagering.com. That show will feature former bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich vs. handicapper and gaming writer Stephen Nover.

Kelly will then get on a plane and fly north for the matchup between Erin Rynning, the defending champion who won $80,000 last year, and Ray Boldway. The night show will air from 7-9 p.m. on KSFN AM-1140 in Vegas, KBZZ AM-1270 in Reno, and on the website.

Kelly will repeat the trek the following three weeks before the day-night doubleheaders stay in Vegas from Oct. 12 through Nov. 2 to complete the first round.

Salerno said the full list of contestants, pairings and sites, will be posted this weekend at americanwagering.com.

Football betting notes

Bettors are always trying to look for value (or at least they should be), and there's an increase in the amount of Las Vegas sports books offering reduced juice this season.

The Las Vegas Hilton and the Stratosphere will continue to offer -105, as opposed to the standard -110 (bet $11 to win $10), on college and pro sides on Thursday nights, but the Plaza, at the west end of the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Vegas, is taking it a step further - much further - by offering a 10-cent straddle on all NFL sides, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We wanted to offer something different, and while other books offer it for a few hours a week, we wanted to do it all the time in the hopes it would bring football bettors to our casino and not just one night a week," said Lou D'Amico, the Plaza casino manager.

* A lot of people say Vegas is fantasyland, and it's getting truer every day. Station Casinos is offering fantasy proposition wagers every week this season. Bettors try to predict whether a player will go over or under a posted total, based on touchdowns, passing yards, rushing yards, etc.

"Fantasy football has just become so huge that we wanted to give people a chance to make money on it beyond their fantasy teams," said Jason McCormick, sports book director for Station Casinos. "It also gives people a chance to hedge. Say your team is playing LaDainian Tomlinson one week and you figure you're going to lose. You can bet LT to go over this point total, and if he beats you, you can still make money that week. And if he falls short and you lose your bet, there's a good chance you'll at least win your game."

Other fantasy offerings include a $25 buy-in season-long contest at the Rampart and Cannery casinos, and another $20 contest at the Hard Rock that uses some fantasy matchups.

* The Harrah's-Caesars family of books does not have fantasy props, per se, but they do have prop bets that are statistic-driven on NFL league leaders. Peyton Manning is the 5-2 favorite to have the most gross passing yards this season, with Tom Brady the solid second choice at 3-1, and Marc Bulger third at 9-2. Nineteen quarterbacks are listed with a "field of all others" available at 6-1.

Tomlinson is 5-2 to be the top rusher, with Steven Jackson second at 4-1, Frank Gore at 9-2, and Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander both at 6-1.

Chad Johnson is 7-2 to repeat as the receiving yardage champ, with Steve Smith at 4-1, Torry Holt at 5-1 and Reggie Wayne at 6-1.

Breeders' Cup futures go to 11

The Saratoga and Del Mar meets have concluded, but that just means we're that much closer to the Breeders' Cup.

While several books have future-book odds on the BC Classic, Wynn Las Vegas has odds on all 11 BC races to be run Oct. 26-27 at Monmouth Park.

In the Classic, Street Sense is the favorite at 5-2, followed by Lawyer Ron and Discreet Cat at 5-1, Any Given Saturday at 6-1, and Curlin at 7-1.

The last races to go up at the Wynn were the Juvenile (with Majestic Warrior and The Leopard being bet down from opening odds of 18-1 and 12-1, respectively, to current odds of 5-1), the Juvenile Fillies (with Irish Smoke as a solid 7-2 choice), and the inaugural running of the Juvenile Turf (Myboycharlie is a lukewarm favorite at 8-1).