08/20/2009 12:00AM

Mixed bag of football contests


LAS VEGAS - The M Resort - yep, the brand-name part of the hotel-casino's name is just M - is the newest major project in the Valley of the Dollars, having debuted in March.

It's on the south end of town, farther south than even the South Point, which is five miles south of Mandalay Bay. Did I mention it's south?

But locals have found it because of great offers in the mail, an outstanding buffet (the Marnell family, from which the hotel gets its initial, built the Rio, which saw its fame rise due to its ahead-of-its-time buffet) and a onsite pharmacy. The race and sports book has been attracting a loyal fan base, with offerings such as in-game wagering, Favorite vs. Field horse wagering (where you can take every other horse in the field vs. a vulnerable fave), and an aggressive wagering menu, including lines on every NFL game this season.

But, for yours truly, the M stands for Mixed, as in the first major football contest in Las Vegas that will mix NFL and college football games. The M Race & Sports Book Football Contest asks players to pick three pro and three college games each week against the spread. The full NFL schedule will be used each week, with about 15 college games available each week, according to M race and sports book director Mike Colbert.

It also has the highest entry fee in Las Vegas this year at $3,000, topping the $2,500 buy-in of the 3-year-old South Point Pro Championship Challenge and the $1,500 of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, which is in its 21st year.

The M originally announced a $100,000-guaranteed prize pool and unlimited entries, with a minimum $50,000 first-place prize and paying through fifth place. But after hearing from its high-end customers that they might wait until the last minute to see if there was going to be fewer than 34 entries - providing for an overlay with more money paid out than collected - Colbert said the Marnells decided to cap the field at 30 contestants and kick in the other $10,000 guaranteed.

"We now have the best value contest in town," Colbert said.

With an added bonus drawing of a $2,000 two-team parlay on the Super Bowl for everyone who signs up by Aug. 29, that might be true depending on how the entries in the other contests shake out, though the other high-end football contests also have their perks. The Hilton SuperContest has a $10,000 mini-contest for those who sign up by Sept. 7 and also offers a $10,000 bonus to the champion if they exceed 67 percent winners; and the South Point is again guaranteeing its prize pool of $250,000 after only getting 75 entries last year, which created an overlay of $62,500.

Vegas football contest notes

Despite the struggling economy, the South Point might have a better chance to reach its goal of 100 entrants as the contest is now also available at the Rampart on the west side of town, the Cannery in North Las Vegas, the Eastside Cannery, the El Cortez in downtown Vegas, and the Virgin River in Mesquite. In fact, all of those books are now networked (along with the Palms, which isn't included in this contest) for all sports wagers with odds being set and moved at the South Point.

* Station Casinos has lowered the entry fee for The Challenge from $1,000 to $500 and will even refund that for those who play all 17 weeks of the contest. A player's card is required - so no proxies are allowed - and the goal is to get customers to come back to their properties every week, even if they're eliminated from the prize pool that will pay $25,000 for first place (plus a $50,000 bonus if the champ picks 67 percent or better), $10,000 for second, and $5,000 for third.

"We really wanted to give our guests a football contest they couldn't afford not to be in," said Jason McCormick, race and sports book director for the Station Casinos. "It's basically a free shot at $100,000 in prizes."

* Leroy's is again offering its more affordable $250 buy-in Pro Challenge and College Challenge, but it is dropping the $100,000 guarantees. Last year, the contests only drew about 200 and 300 entrants, respectively. Leroy's, which debuted its Three 'N Out contest at midseason last year in which contestants picked one game per week and stayed alive until they had three losses, is starting that contest at the beginning of the season and will be adding a second contest that starts with the games of Oct. 25. Entries are $25 apiece, with a limit of five. Players who start the first contest 0-3 and get eliminated will receive a free entry in the second contest.

* The Last Man Standing contests, which are one-and-done survival events, at Station Casinos and their networked books again will hold separate college and pro contests. Those are winner-take-all, with prizes guaranteed at $25,000 and $75,000, respectively. New this year is a $100,000 bonus (so a minimum of $200,000 total) if someone wins both.

* The Coast Casinos contest at the Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, and other Boyd Gaming properties, is free for the second straight year. Anyone with a player's card receives three free entries a week picking NFL straight-up winners, with $30,000 in weekly prizes up for grabs. Coast gives up to two extra entries per week to regular customers based on play.

Favre signing moves line slightly

It seems like an NFL news report can't be complete without a Brett Favre item. His signing with the Vikings had an impact in the sports books here but not as much as some people might expect. The Vikings, with Sage Rosenfels or Tavaris Jackson expected to start at quarterback, had been favored by 3 points in their Week 1 game at Cleveland the whole summer, and that number was only moved to 3 1/2 at most books, with the Hilton being the only one to move it to 4. The Hilton only lowered the Vikings from 8-1 to 7-1 to win the NFC title.