02/14/2005 12:00AM

Giving back to the game - literally

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Let's say you win $9,600 in a charity raffle. Five days later, they call and say they made a mistake: You should only have received $3,840 and they ask for the other $5,760 back so they can feed some needy kids. What do you do?

You give it back, of course (or at least I hope).

Now, let's say that instead of a charity raffle, it's a major handicapping tournament run by a big casino company. Does that change things? Do you stick it to the big company because it can afford the cash, or do you do the right thing?

That was the moral dilemma facing Gupta Etwaru, an ophthalmologist from Hayward, Calif. When the final standings were posted on the evening of Saturday, Jan. 29, at the Horseplayers World Series at the Orleans, Etwaru finished with a score of $2,672. His score was bracketed with the person above him, Mayer Kanter, to denote a tie for 10th place. Tenth-place money was $15,360 while 11th place was worth $3,840, so those were added together and divided by two to give each a payoff of $9,600.

After the posting of the results, players are allowed to file protests, and then the results become official. Both men received their money at an awards ceremony on Sunday morning and went on their merry way.

What wasn't caught during the initial auditing process, however, was that Kanter had scored $2,672.80, which was 80 cents better than Etwaru's $2,672.00. Because of the dot-matrix printer and the computer paper used to display the standings, the "8" and the "0" appeared the same.

On Feb. 4, Bob Gregorka, Coast Casinos' director of race book operations, called Etwaru to say a mistake had been made and requested the money back.

"We're embarrassed by it, but it was an honest mistake," Gregorka said last Friday. "It's my job to ask for the money back. No one's going to come after him if he doesn't pay us back, but we did the right thing by paying Mr. Kanter his rightful earnings and I asked Mr. Etwaru to do the right thing, too."

Etwaru, reached Sunday while playing at another tournament, at the Sports Haven in Connecticut, said the World Series was his first major tournament and he had no idea he would be involved in such a situation.

Thinking back to when the results were posted, Etwaru said he just saw he tied for 10th place and didn't look closely to verify if the scores were identical.

"All I was thinking about were the photo finishes I had lost that could have put me in first place," he said.

After his initial discussion with Gregorka, Etwaru posted his dilemma on a discussion board and also discussed the situation with friends.

"Just about everyone told me I should keep the money," Etwaru said. "Maybe two said to give it back. But I want to do the right thing. It was an honest mistake. They run a lot of great tournaments at the Orleans."

Gregorka said he offered to give Etwaru a free entry worth $1,000 into next January's World Series (slated for Jan. 19-22, 2006) as well as a comped suite for returning the money. Etwaru said he wanted to turn this experience into a good thing for others.

"I want to make sure the 10th-place finisher got the money he earned and I also don't want anyone to lose their job over this mistake," Etwaru said before adding with a laugh, "I also want them to invest $300 into a laser printer."

Etwaru also said he would request that the Orleans have a leaderboard like they have at other tournaments so players can see where they stand.

"I won't be at their next few tournaments, but I want to make things better for my fellow players," he said.

Bravo for him.

Locals dominate Reno tourney

In addition to the top five finishers from last month's World Series who were granted free entries into next January's finale, four more earned their way in the Winter Challenge at the Reno Hilton last weekend.

Contestants paid a $200 entry fee and then made $600 in live-money wagers ($300 each on Saturday and Sunday). Jim Dempster of Carson City, Nev., turned his bankroll into nearly $2,000, which he was able to cash at the windows, and also picked up $4,300 in prize money.

Dempster is no stranger to cashing checks at Reno-area tourneys. He won the Harrah's Reno Horse Handicapping Tournament last April and finished both second and third at the Reno Hilton's Summer Showdown last June.

The rest of the World Series qualifiers were Bob Lester of Reno, second place; Frank Okasaki Jr. of Arlington, Va., in third; and Steve Fierro of Carson City, Nev., in fourth. Fierro is the author of "The Four Quarters of Horse Investing," a radio host and contributor to Today's Racing Digest with his Betting Line USA odds. He also used to run this tournament before moving to the Casino Fandango in Carson City.

All-star games take bite out of books

The sports books in Nevada, still counting all their winnings from the Super Bowl, gave some of it back this past Sunday.

The Pro Bowl doesn't attract anywhere near the action of the Super Bowl, but the books still took it on the chin in an unlikely manner. The AFC opened as a 3-point favorite over the NFC and was bet to -4 at many books, but that wasn't the big news.

The total opened at 58 and was steamed all the way up to 66 at every book in town and some even topped off at 67. The late money came in on the under as professional bettors saw a juicy opportunity for a middle.

Final score: AFC 38, NFC 27, meaning that the early wagers - a huge majority of the handle as both wiseguys and recreational players steamed the line higher - on the over were winners, and then the late bettors pounding the under also cashed.

* The NHL All-Star Game was also scheduled for Sunday, but with the lockout still in place there was no game. That also hurt the books, as bettors who would have bet the hockey game fired away on the Pro Bowl.