05/18/2004 11:00PM

Imperial's Saturday contests back


LAS VEGAS - Technology is a double-edged sword. It makes our lives easier, but also makes them more complicated.

When the Nevada Gaming Control Board mandated that all horse racing contests must be electronically graded as of Jan. 21, it put a stop on all the popular $10 buy-in contests around town that were hand-graded or handled only partially through the tote system.

Since then, the Coast Casinos, the Station Casinos, and the Excalibur and Circus Circus properties in the Mandalay Resort family have been offering free contests that are exempt from the new regulations. The free contests are great for players because they are, well, free, but their prize pools generally don't grow large because the house has the burden of putting up all of the prize money instead of having the players help fund it.

Well, four months after seeing the pay-to-play contests go away, this Saturday will see the return of the "Super Saturday" contest at the Imperial Palace.

"We never considered a free contest," race book manager Tara Martinez said. "Those just don't generate as much interest, as least for us."

Martinez said the IP's system isn't totally in compliance with the new regulations, but it's close enough for the Gaming Control Board to give its go-ahead.

The board, Martinez said, "issued a waiver to continue the contest as long as customers' entries and results were in the tote system, which they will be," she said. "The other stipulation was that we have to install the new software for monies as soon as it is tested and approved and that we ask the tote system to do this for us. Autotote will be doing a test on the system with the progressive at the end of the month at the Rivera. That should take about a month. Then hopefully everything will be in the system and we will all be in compliance."

The Super Saturday entry fee is $10, with a maximum of three per person. The IP will use three races at Belmont and three at Hollywood. Martinez said she wouldn't know which races she would use until Thursday afternoon, but she said the first contest race from Belmont will fall between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pacific time.

Contestants pick a horse and an alternate in each race and earn the mutuel price for the horse's finish position, plus a bonus 20 points for a win, 10 for place, and 5 for show.

First place will be worth $800, with $400 for second and $300 for third. In addition, the leader after the first three races (called the halftime bonus) will win $200.

In addition, the progressive jackpot starts at $2,000. The winner needs to score 165 points to win the progressive. If not hit, the progressive will carry over until it's hit, with the target score dropping each week.

In another contest note, the Coast Casinos' free "Pick 5 Contest" on Friday will use the first five races at Arlington. It was previously announced that races 5 through 9 would be used, but with Arlington having a later first post (1 p.m. Vegas time), Coast decided to move to the earlier races.

One more horse racing item: Jack Knowlton and Gus Williams, part of the Sackatoga Stable ownership group, will be in the Bally's VIP lounge in the back of the race book on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to noon, signing copies of the new "Funny Cide" book and meeting with fans. Funny Cide bobblehead dolls also will be available for purchase.

Technology talk

"Remote gaming" will be discussed at a joint meeting of the Nevada Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board at 9 a.m. Friday in Room 2450 of the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.

Remote gaming devices allow bettors to place wagers on any number of games - race and sports, slots, keno, even table games - while not being at a window, a table or a machine. These allow people to bet from their hotel rooms, while at a restaurant on casino property, or at poolside.

State regulators are concerned about making sure the devices aren't used by people under 21 and can't be used from outside the state, as well as other issues.

World Series of Poker starts Saturday

Technology has also had an impact on the world of poker, specifically the World Series of Poker. The $10,000 buy-in championship event of no-limit Texas hold 'em begins this Saturday at noon.

In the past, the championship event started on Monday and ran for five days, but with the proliferation of online qualifying tournaments, the field, which set a record with 839 last year, could be close to 1,500 this year. In order to accommodate all the players and to whittle down the field so the tournament can finish by next Friday night, organizers had to move up the start.

Chris Moneymaker won the $2.5 million first prize last year from an initial investment of $40 in an online qualifying tournament. That has led a lot more websites to put up the $10,000 entry fee for the series in order to draw players to their own tournaments.

A field of 1,500 would result in a first-place payout of $3 million, with prizes paid through 135th place.

Sports book notes

Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a -800 (bet $8 to win $1) favorite over DeMarcus Corley in their junior welterweight boxing match Saturday night in Atlantic City. The odds on Corley are 5-1. The fight will be televised by HBO as part of its Saturday night boxing program, starting at 9:45 p.m. Eastern time.

* Fight fans of another sort are anticipating the Ultimate Fighting Championship card at Mandalay Bay on June 19. The host sports book already has odds up on the all-star program with Ken Shamrock (-200) vs. Kimo Leopoldo (+160) in a three-round heavyweight bout, Tim Sylvia (-240) vs. Frank Mir (+190) in a five-round heavyweight bout, Matt Hughes (-160) vs. Renato Verissimo (+130) in a three-round welterweight bout, and Phil Baroni (-170) vs. Evan Tanner (+140) in a three-round middleweight bout.

* Saturday's Nextel Cup All-Star Challenge at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., is an exhibition race, but there is still wagering in Nevada's sports books. According to Las Vegas Sports Consultants, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the 4-1 favorite, followed by Ryan Newman at 5-1, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson at 6-1, Kurt Busch at 8-1, and Tony Stewart and Casey Kahne at 10-1.