07/02/2008 11:00PM

New face on sports book scene

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A new player in the Nevada race and sports book industry debuted Tuesday in Elko, located in the relatively desolate northeastern part of the state, about 320 miles north of Las Vegas and 230 miles east of Reno.

Lucky's Race & Sports Books opened in the Red Lion and High Desert casinos. Lucky's is part of Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, the brainchild of president and CEO Joe Asher, who previously was the managing director of Cantor Gaming, a subsidiary of Cantor Fitzgerald that he led through Nevada gaming approval for wireless gaming devices that are currently undergoing a field trial at the Venetian. Asher left Cantor in 2007 to return to his first love, racing and sports. In fact, he took the Brandywine name from the defunct Brandywine Raceway in Delaware, where he went to the races with his dad as a kid and where he got his first job at age 16. The track closed in 1989, but the name has found a new home in Nevada.

The company will operate race and sports books for casinos that don't have the staff, know-how, or desire to book the games themselves. Nevadans and regular visitors are certainly familiar with the Leroy's chain of 61 sports books and Cal Neva, which operates 30 around the state.

Brandywine, and Asher, received final approval from the Nevada Gaming Commission last month and didn't waste any time in launching the operation in Elko. On Thursday, the network grew with Reno's Grand Sierra (formerly the Reno Hilton) coming on line. Asher is still awaiting approval to add the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas and the Casino Fandango in Carson City to the list, and that should take place before football season.

But while it looks like Lucky's will be in direct competition with Leroy's and Cal Neva (and they certainly are to a fair extent), Lucky's director of sports operations and public relations Jimmy Vaccaro said they're not looking to take over that whole segment of the market.

"If we get where we want to get, and Joe has a three-year plan, we think about 20 locations would be ideal," said Vaccaro, who was most recently marketing director for Leroy's but is most known for his bookmaking days when he opened the Mirage sports book in 1989 and also helped start up the race and sports book at the Atlantis in the Bahamas. "We need to be where it's easy to get in and out to make a bet and we need enough outlets so we can book the games properly."

The actual director of bookmaking is Tony DiTommaso, who has been in the Nevada bookmaking industry for more than 20 years. He was most recently in charge of the Cal Neva network.

"Tony knows bookmaking, but he also knows the day-to-day way to run various outlets, with all the staffing and everything else that's involved," Vaccaro said.

Asher has promised an emphasis on the horse racing end of the business. Vaccaro was instrumental in starting some of the handicapping contests at Leroy's as well as a radio show.

"First things first," he said. "It was a seven-month application process to get approval from gaming. Now we just want to let people know the doors are open and then we can work on that other stuff."

All tournament roads lead to Vegas

The World Championship No-Limit Texas Hold'em event at the World Series of Poker (aka the Main Event) officially started at noon Thursday. The final number of entrants who put up the $10,000 buy-in won't be known until Sunday because "Day 1" is spread out over four days to accommodate the thousands of hopefuls (last year there were 6,358). There also will be two separate "Day 2" sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, with all of the survivors being combined Thursday, July 10, and they'll play until the final table of nine players is determined on July 14. In a move to increase exposure for the players and add hype, the final table won't be contested until Nov. 9-10.

Horse racing's answer to the world series is the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, which will be held Jan. 23-24 at the Red Rock Resort in Las Vegas. Qualifying tournaments have been taking place since February, and there are several new opportunities added to the schedule (which can be found at drf.com and ntra.com):

* Twinspires.com, which already hosts a qualifier with 15 NHC berths to be awarded in its online contest on Nov. 29, announced this week that it has a new TwinSpires.com Leaderboard competition that will run on the website for its members, who will just need to designate which of their live-money wagers are to be used for contest purposes. There is no additional entry fee. Participants choose to either be in the "Points" contest (which just counts the number of wins) or the "ROI" contest (which ranks by each player's return on investment). Within each category, there will be separate contests for win, place, and show wagers. At the end of the contest, the six winners will receive an NHC berth. The runners-up will earn a berth in Coast Casino's Horseplayer World Series, which will be held Feb. 19-21 at the Orleans in Las Vegas, so players can win a spot in each year-end event through this contest. In addition, the monthly winner on each of the six leaderboards will earn entry into the November qualifier. Full details are available at Twinspires.com.

* For members of the NHC Tour (which costs $125), the Breeders' Cup Fantasy Challenge also starts Saturday. Contestants make mythical $2 win-and-place wagers on selected Breeders' Cup prep races during the summer. Payoffs are capped at $42 to win and $22 to place. Just like the horses, it's win and you're in as the top three finishers will earn NHC berths. Go to breederscup.com/bcfantasychallenge for more information.

* Here on the home front, Station Casinos, the parent company of NHC host Red Rock, continues its qualifying schedule. The Santa Fe is next up on the list of $200 buy-in contests that send the top two finishers to the NHC, with a one-day tournament Saturday, July 26, (contact Santa Fe race and sports book manager Bill Walkowski at bill.walkowski@stationcasinos.com for further information). Smaller $40 buy-in contests that earn spots in a qualifiers-only tourney at the Red Rock on Dec. 13 for two NHC berths will be held July 10 at Palace Station, July 17 at Boulder Station, Aug. 7 at Palace Station, and Aug. 21 at Red Rock.

* The Gold Coast Summer Classic, with a $400 entry fee and a win-and-place format, will be held July 24-26, with the top 10 finishers earning Horseplayer World Series berths.