12/13/2006 1:00AM

Jarhead's picks setting NFL record

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People who follow the top football handicapping contests here in Las Vegas could be witnessing history.

Atop the leaderboard in the SuperContest at the Las Vegas Hilton, the Glory of the Gridiron at the Harrah's/Caesars properties, and The Challenge at the Station Casinos is the same name: Jarhead. That's the alias of Robert Burns, who has had an incredible season picking NFL games against the spread.

The Hilton and Stations contests have entrants pick five games a week, while Harrah's involves six games. Burns's records in the three contests are 48-21-1, 46-22-2, and 57-27, respectively (and respectfully). With three weeks to go, he has a three-game lead in the Hilton, a two-game lead at Stations, and a four-game lead at Harrah's.

The Hilton has an entry fee of $1,500, the Stations costs $1,000, and Harrah's/Caesars $2,000, so he's in for $3,500, but he's already collected $5,000 for being in a three-way tie for first at Harrah's through the first six weeks and $15,000 for being the lone leader after 12 weeks. If he wins all three, he'll pocket another $423,600 - the Hilton has a first prize of $249,600, Stations is $104,000, and Harrah's is $70,000 - plus even more if he stays above 67 percent winners. The Hilton has a $10,000 bonus if its champion hits more than 67 percent (and he's at 69.5 percent entering this week and needs to go only 8-6-1 to stay above that plateau), and Stations offers a one-year lease of a Mercedes Benz.

So far, the greatest season in handicapping contest history was 1999 by Russ Culver, co-creator of the Glantz/Culver Line, longtime sports book manager at Palace Station, MGM Grand, Golden Nugget, and the Mirage, and the director of sports analysis for vegasinsider.com. That year, Culver won the Hilton SuperContest, a smaller contest at Barley's in Henderson, and a celebrity/media contest at Sunset Station, and was second in a high-end contest at the Stratosphere. That was before the explosion in the number of entrants in these contests. His prize money amounted to just over $200,000.

Jarhead, which is a slang term for a U.S. Marine, has picked up his share of followers. His plays, as well as all the other contestants', can be picked up at the Hilton on Friday afternoons, the Stations on Friday night, and Harrah's properties on Saturday night. There are also links to the Hilton and Station contests at nss.net, with the Hilton plays usually posted by Friday night and the Station picks by late Saturday.

* This weekend marks the start of the SuperContest's mini-contest, with a $10,000 prize to the contestant with the most wins in the final three weeks. It's open only to the 320 entrants who signed up before the early-bird deadline. The Station's mini-contest started last week with 10 contestants starting 5-0.

Leroy's invitational hits final week

While the winner of the above contests have to be consistently solid throughout the season, the same isn't true of the invitational tournaments that have become popular over the years, most notably the Stardust Invitational.

The format usually involves head-to-head matches with the winner advancing and the loser eliminated, so it's not a matter of having a great record, just better than your opponent that week.

With the Stardust closing this fall, the Leroy's chain has continued the tradition with its Money Talks Invitational, doubling the entry fee to $5,000 this year for the 16 contestants. The winner receives the $80,000 prize with the runner-up getting $20,000 put up by Leroy's.

(I've often heard it said that having a runner-up prize, as opposed to the winner-take-all prize used at the Stardust, benefits the second-place finisher. But, in reality, it benefits the champion. Why? Because often in competitions like this, the two finalists will strike a deal to divide up the pot. So awarding the runner-up prize money gives the winner what he would have gotten if they had chopped up the pot.)

The Money Talks format is named partly for the fact that each entrant puts up his own money, and also because the plays are weighted with a $770 play on the best bet, $660 for the second bet, and so on down to $110 on the seventh play. The winner each week is the one whose plays earn the most money, not necessarily who has the best record. And that's a good thing, as the combined record of all handicappers through the 14 weeks of competition (plus one extra set of selections to break a tie from the previous week) is 99-104-7.

The finale will be held at 8 p.m. Friday at the Silverton with Doc of Doc's Sports taking on Erin Rynning of sportsmemo.com. Doc has been consistent in his three appearances, going 4-3 for a profit of $700 in his opening-round match, 4-3 for another profit of $700 in his next match, and 3-3-1 for a profit of $400 in his semifinal victory over handicapper Marc Lawrence. That's a modest 11-9-1 record but a healthy profit of $1,800. Rynning struggled his first week at 2-4-1 with a net loss of $1,040 but advanced when his opponent, Jorge Gonzalez, did worse, and then went 4-2-1 in his next appearance for a profit of $630 and won his semifinal match last week by going 4-3 for a profit of $70 to beat handicapper Andy Iskoe.

The show will be broadcast live on KSHP AM-1400 and on kshp.com. An archive of the show and the picks should be available by following the Leroy's and contest links at americanwagering.com.

A win is a win is a win

I had some people tell me they thought it was funny when I wrote about Appalachian St. beating Youngstown St. as a 6 1/2-point favorite in a Division I-AA playoff game, but another reader chastised me for calling those who wagered on the game "degenerates." His point is that a good bet is a good bet no matter what the game or level of competition if you think you have an edge. The money pays just the same, he said.

Point well taken.

For those interested (degenerates and serious handicappers alike), this Friday's Division I-AA title game at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn., has Appalachian St. favored by 3 1/2 over Massachusetts. The total has been bet up from 43 to 45 1/2.