01/05/2005 1:00AM

Get hoops picks at Leroy's Challenge

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LAS VEGAS - The college football season is over, so now college sports fans turn their attention fully to basketball.

It's also the end of all this town's sports handicapping contests, which some bettors rely on for selections each weekend. Well, that's usually what happens at this time of year, but there's a new game in town starting on Friday: the Leroy's Challenge, a college basketball handicapping tournament that is the brainchild of legendary oddsmaker-bookmaker-handicapper Jimmy Vaccaro.

Vaccaro, who has earned his stripes on both sides of the counter, now hangs his hat as the public relations director for the chain of Leroy's sports books, which will include 56 outlets around the state after the Key Largo book closes next Tuesday.

As part of his efforts to bring business to Leroy's, Vaccaro co-hosts the "Leroy's Sports Hour" radio show at the Riviera sports books from 10-11 p.m. Fridays on KBAD AM-920 in Las Vegas. During the bulk of the football season, the show was a fast-paced preview of the weekend's action, starring Vaccaro and co-host John Kelly, who was pulling double-duty as host of the "Stardust Invitational" tournament, too.

Vaccaro, a frequent contestant in the Stardust event, decided the idea was too good not to steal, so he pitched an idea to Vic Salerno, the owner of Leroy's.

"I told Vic that the Stardust gets a lot of publicity and promotion out of that tournament, and it brings a lot of people to that property," Vaccaro said. "I told him there's a void out there with football season over, and it just made sense to go on the coattails of the Stardust with a basketball contest before the conference tournaments start."

And so the Leroy's Challenge was born.

Vaccaro has invited a field of nine handicappers to square off in head-to-head matchups for the next eight weeks. It will be a single-elimination tournament with each handicapper giving out five Saturday games, and the betting lines will be the ones available the day before at the Riviera and other Leroy's books, which put up their overnight college hoops numbers at 3 p.m.

Friday's matchup is between Las Vegas Sun sports betting writer Jeff Haney and GamingToday sports editor Mark Mayer. They are the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds in the tournament. The survivor will face No. 1 seed Alan Boston, a professional bettor, on Jan. 14.

"The NCAA tournament has a play-in game, so we figured why can't we?" Vaccaro quipped.

The rest of the field is: No. 2 seed Nick Bogdanovich, sports book manager at the Golden Nugget; No. 3 John Harper, senior oddsmakers for Las Vegas Sports Consultants; No. 4 Dave Malinsky, professional handicapper at many offshore websites, including covers.com and majorstats.com; No. 5 Ted Sevransky, owner of whocovers.com and the voice on a long list of local radio gigs; No. 6 Dave Scandalioto, owner of meatandpotatoes.com and host of his own radio show; and No. 7 Mitch Moss, local radio personality and producer.

The winner will receive $5,000, as well as having $5,000 donated in his name to charity.

In addition to getting picks from some of the sharpest handicappers around, customers, through a drawing, will also have the chance to be represented by one of the handicappers. If a customer's handicapper goes all the way, the customer wins $1,000.

"We wanted a way to involve the customers," Vaccaro said. "This gives them a chance to be part of the action, and the lucky ones will have a rooting interest."

Beginning this Friday, the show will also be simulcast live on the ESPN affiliate in Reno, KPTT AM-630.

College bowl wrapup

Southern Cal's 55-19 rout of Oklahoma was huge for the sports books here in Las Vegas. The Trojans opened -3 1/2 at the Stardust when bowl odds were first put up on Sunday, Dec. 5. The professional bettors, sensing value as offshore books opened the line lower, decided to take Oklahoma +3 1/2 sooner rather than later, and the Stardust moved it to 3.

Most books opened at that number, but over the next few weeks money continued to come in on Oklahoma.

By the time Big 12's Texas Tech upset the Pac-10's California last Thursday, most books had moved the line to USC -2 1/2, but the Stardust and Caesars books held the line at 3 for as long as they could. But over the weekend, as the public continued to bet the Sooners, the line was lowered to USC -1 and even to pick-em at many books.

That's a lot of losing bets, far outweighing the action that was taken on Southern Cal.

The fact USC won the BCS title game was also good for future books. Most had Southern Cal as a low-priced favorite, in the 2-1 or 3-1 range, from the beginning, or a second choice to Oklahoma. So while a lot of tickets were paid out on USC, they were more than offset by the tickets on all of the other contenders (Auburn, California, Texas, Michigan, the Florida schools, Utah) as well as tickets that were bet on all the longshot teams on the board.

Bettors who had tickets on Auburn got the worst break of all as their team went undefeated and didn't even have a chance to play for the BCS title.

* After winning with Texas Tech over California last Thursday night, I closed out bowl season by winning only one of my last four bankroll selections. Iowa +6 1/2 vs. LSU on New Year's Day was the lone winner over the final bowl games, which included losses on Louisville -12 1/2 vs. Boise St. on Friday, West Virginia +9 vs. Florida St. and Pittsburgh +15 1/2 vs. Utah on Saturday, and Oklahoma +3 vs. USC. That dropped my bowl record to 6-7 for a net loss of 1.7 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) and my overall college football season record to 34-28-1 for a net profit of 3.2 units.

Top sports information provider sold

Corcom Inc., parent company of the well-known line service provider Don Best Sports (donbest.com), has been purchased for $40 million by CES Software PLC, a publicly held company in England and Wales.

Don Best, founded in 1989, provides real-time odds updates to both gamblers and sports books, as well as other handicapping services.

According to a statement by CES, members of the Don Best management team will continue in their current roles.