08/27/2003 12:00AM

Live bankroll contest heightens drama

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The newest handicapping tournament coming to Las Vegas is the Station's Live Bankroll Challenge on Oct. 16-18 at the Palace Station.

It may be new, but longtime tournament players will feel like they're taking a trip back in a time machine. For one thing, the tournament format - involving a $500 live bankroll that requires players to bet 10 percent of their bankroll on 10 plays a day - is reminiscent of the popular Club Cal Neva tournaments held up in Reno from 1982 to 2000.

"Most of the tournaments these days are based on a fictitious bankroll," said tournament host Mike Lavine. "Players in those have a tendency to fire away with longshots that they might not play if it was real money. A handicapping contest in the truest sense is the live bankroll concept."

Lavine is another blast from the past. He is regarded as the grandfather of the modern handicapping tournament, especially in regards to using them as drawing cards for casinos. In 1982, he and his brother Barry ran a tournament at the MGM Grand-Reno (now the Reno Hilton), and then formed Worldwide Tournament Consultants Inc., which conducted more than 50 tournaments through 1998, most of them under the trademark name of "World Cup of Thoroughbred Handicapping."

In fact, the last World Cup event Lavine hosted in Nevada was at the Palace Station (another potential case of deja vu for players), which hasn't hosted a major tournament in the past five years. Since that time, the Coast Casinos (led by The Orleans) have been the top stop on the tournament circuit, while Lavine has been putting events together in Mexico, South America, and Canada.

However, a few meetings over the past year with Art Manteris, vice president of race and sports for Station Casinos, brought Lavine back into the local mix.

"I've known Art for 25 years," Lavine said. "We met a few times around town in the past 11 months and he mentioned wanting to do some innovative things to bring players in. I presented my idea and we finalized it earlier this month."

The entry fee is $250, which will all be paid back in prize money. There is a maximum of three entries per person. Each entrant starts with a $500 live bankroll and must make 10 $50 wagers (win, place, or show) on the first day. If a player builds a bankroll of, say, $800 after the first day, he then must make 10 $80 bets on the second day.

At the end of the tournament, players keep their winnings. And since the payouts are in real money back to the player, there are no caps on the points/money that players earn in the tournament.

"The decisions on behalf of the player will be interesting because it's real money," Lavine said. "It's back in your pocket but you have to keep playing. If you build your bankroll to $5,000 heading into the final day, you have to make 10 $500 bets, so what do you do? Do you play it close to the vest so you keep a lot of your winnings? Do you play low-priced horses or bet to show? Or do you keep firing away like you have and go for the win?"

One change from the Club Cal Neva format will be re-buys. Players will be able to be able to re-up for $300 per entry.

"This is an absolute first," Lavine said. "We're expecting a lot of dedicated tournament players from all over the country. If they tank on the first day, what do they do? Pack up and go home, or go to another casino? This gets them back in action."

In addition to the total prize pool, the Palace Station is kicking in $15,000 in daily prize money: $2,500 for each day's biggest earner, $1,500 for second and $1,000 for third.

Lavine said Palace Station can accommodate between 200 and 400 entrants and is aiming for 300, which would make a total purse of $90,000 (including the daily money) and a top prize of $45,000.

For more information, call (800) 321-8555.

Reno tournament nearing limit

The aforementioned Reno Hilton, which also hosts a live-bankroll tourney in the summer, continues its tournament tradition with the September Shootout next Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6-7.

This is the tournament that is using the exact format of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship: players making 15 mythical $2 win and place bets a day, including eight mandatory races each day. The field is limited to 200 (partly due to limited hotel rooms, and also to more closely mirror the size of the NHC field). The entry fee is $500, with NHC berths going to the top four finishers.

Earlier this week, tournament coordinator Steve Fierro said he has 174 definite attendees with another 18 verbal commitments, so as few as eight spots might be available. The contest number is (775) 691-5235.

California qualifiers also coming up

If that field fills or if $500 is too steep for your bankroll, there are other DRF/NTRA qualifying tournaments coming up for West Coast horseplayers.

* The National Orange Show in San Bernardino, Calif., also will be hosting a tournament on Sept. 6-7 with another four NHC berths on the line. The entry fee is $200 ($180 for members of the Golden State Rewards Program, which is free) with a limit of three per person. Players make 12 mythical $2 win and place bets each day on any track offered at the satellite center (mutuel prices capped at 20-1 to win and 10-1 to place). The tournament begins at 11 a.m. on that Saturday, coinciding with Belmont's third race. The doors open at 10:30 a.m., but early arrivals are encouraged to register next Friday to beat the rush. The contact number is (909) 888-6788 ext. 521.

* When Del Mar closes, some Nevada and California horseplayers take a break during the Fairplex meet, but they're missing the boat if they're looking to make the NHC field because that's when Fairplex hosts its Road to the NTRA Handicapper of the Year Tournament series. On Sept. 13-14, the top two finishers will win a spot in the NHC, while separate tournaments on Sept. 20-21 and Sept. 27-28 will each send the winner to the NHC. The entry fee for each event is $250, with a limit of five per person. Each entrant makes mythical $20 win, place, and show bets on the final eight races at Fairplex on the two contest days. The contact number is (909) 865-4630.