11/08/2007 12:00AM

Local horseplayers clean up at Red Rock

EmailBack in July, when the Red Rock Casino was named the newest host of the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, race and sports book director Jason McCormick said his company wanted to host some qualifying tournaments.

"There aren't many tournaments in Las Vegas for local horseplayers to earn a berth in the NHC, so we wanted to hold some for people to try and earn a spot without having to go out of town," he said. "It also gives us a chance to show off our property and take a test run before hosting the finals."

The announcement for the Nov. 3 qualifier at Red Rock wasn't made until early October. McCormick still thought it would be geared toward locals until he started having to deal with daily phone calls and e-mail messages from out-of-towners.

Last Saturday's one-day tourney drew a field of 103 players who put up the entry fee of $250 and included a who's who of contest players from around the country, all of them trying to qualify for the NHC finals on Jan. 25-26. At most NHC qualifiers, winners receive air fare in addition to hotel accommodations during the finals, but at this tourney, only the rooms were offered.

When the dust had cleared, however, the air fare was a moot point as Las Vegas locals claimed the two qualifying spots. George Gatheca, 35, took first place with a final score of $172. Players had to make 15 mythical $2 win and place bets. In addition to the NHC berth, Gatheca collected the top prize of $12,875, or 50 percent of the prize pool. John Cammarata, an everyday player at the Red Rock, had a final score of $137 and won $5,150 plus his NHC seat.

The tourney paid through fifth place. Gary Brous, yet another Vegas local, was third with a score of $129.20 to earn $3,862.50. Cheryl Fisher of Houston prevented a Vegas sweep by finishing fourth at $113.40 and won $2,575, with Scott Nance of Vegas taking the last money spot in fifth with a score of $113.40 to earn $2,575.

Another NHC qualifier will be held at the Red Rock's sister property Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, with the same format and the same $250 entry fee. The Red Rock will host the aptly named Last Chance Tournament on Wednesday, Jan. 23, two days prior to the finals.

Vegas ties affect NBA wagering

After a week of the NBA season, Las Vegas sports book directors don't report any dropoff in wagering due to this past summer's Tim Donaghy referee scandal. For the most part, it's business as usual.

But that doesn't mean there won't be a slight dip when the state releases its figures in the coming months, but for a totally different reason. Games involving the Boston Celtics are off the board at Harrah's properties because Harrah's chairman and CEO Gary Loveman has bought a 2.4 percent stake in his hometown team. In approving Loveman's purchase, the NBA required that his company not book any games involving the Celtics.

This is nothing new. The Palms doesn't have any NBA games on the boards because its owner, the Maloof family, is majority owner of the Sacramento Kings. The Silverton on the south end of the Strip is owned by Ed Roskie, who is part owner of the Staples Center in Los Angeles (where the NBA's Lakers and NHL's Kings play) and the hotel doesn't take bets on pro basketball or hockey, even though it is part of the Leroy's chain.

It's not even anything new for Caesars Palace, which is now part of the Harrah's empire. Between 1995 and 1997, ITT Sheraton Corp. owned Caesars and the New York Knicks, so the casino wasn't able to book any NBA games.

College sports look very upsetting

The NCAA football season got off to a shocking start when Appalachian State of the former Division I-AA upset No. 5 Michigan as a 31-point underdog. That set the tone for a lot of talk of parity and major upsets this season, highlighted by Stanford knocking off No. 1 USC as a 40-point dog.

Well, last Saturday in college basketball, Division II Grand Valley State beat No. 8 Michigan State in an exhibition game to foretell things to come as Gardner-Webb, another Division II school, went into Rupp Arena and upset No. 5 Kentucky, 84-68. The South Point and the Las Vegas Hilton had the game on the board with Kentucky -25 1/2 and -26, respectively.

The game was meant as a formality for Kentucky to advance to the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer next Thursday at Madison Square Garden. Instead, Gardner-Webb has crashed the garden party.

Parity looks like it has hit major college basketball as well.

Vegas in the news

The media circus has descended upon Las Vegas, and I'm not talking about the Democratic presidential candidates coming here next Thursday for a nationally televised debate.

No, and unless you have been under a rock the last few days, you know the biggest story coming out of Las Vegas these days is the O.J. Simpson trial - potentially the trial of this century. Simpson was scheduled to be in court Thursday and Friday for a hearing to see if he would have to stand trial on burglary with a firearm and kidnapping charges in connection with a Sept. 13 incident in which he went to a room at the Palace Station to retrieve what he claims was memorabilia that was stolen from him. The star prosecution witness, the memorabilia dealer Bruce Froming, from whom the 100-plus items were taken, took the stand Thursday morning and testified that he saw one of Simpson's accomplices had a gun and that one was pointed at his head.

* At 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, the New Frontier (which isn't so new anymore as it was built in 1942 as the Hotel Last Frontier and then remodeled and renamed the New Frontier in 1995) is scheduled to be imploded to make way for a Vegas version of the Plaza Hotel in New York.